Questions cloud Trump campaign after writer apologizes for speech ‘chaos’

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Melania Trump takes the stage after her introduction by her husband, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

A staff writer for the Trump Organization took responsibility on Wednesday for the “chaos” caused by a speech given by the wife of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that drew accusations of plagiarism and cast a shadow over the party’s convention this week.

The writer, Meredith McIver, apologized and offered an explanation that threw into sharp relief two days of efforts by the Trump campaign to deny there had been a problem with Melania Trump’s speech on Monday night.

The Republican convention in Cleveland, which formally anointed Trump on Tuesday as the party nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election, was meant to be an occasion for the party to rally around its unorthodox White House candidate after a bitterly divisive primary campaign.

But the accusations of plagiarism, and the Trump campaign’s responses to them, have been a major talking point just as the party tries to showcase a candidate who it believes can appeal to voters and a campaign operation capable of beating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in November.

In a statement, McIver said she had inserted passages into the Melania Trump speech that resembled parts of a 2008 speech by first lady Michelle Obama.

McIver said Melania Trump had read passages from Michelle Obama’s speech to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, when Barack Obama was in his first campaign for the presidency, over the phone to her as examples. McIver then wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in a draft that became Melania Trump’s speech.

McIver said in her statement that Michelle Obama is a person Melania Trump “has always liked.”

“I did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant,” McIver said.

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A small section of Melania Trump’s roughly 15-minute speech, which was a highlight of the opening day of the convention, was strikingly similar to Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech.

In the statement by McIver and comments by Trump campaign officials on the speech, nowhere has there been any sense of irony that the wife of the Republican nominee was inspired by the words of Michelle Obama at the same time that speaker after speaker at the Republican convention has assailed the policies of President Obama.

Democrats have seized on the similarities in the speech and the Trump campaign’s various explanations over the next 48 hours as showing that his team is not ready for prime time. The charge was all the more embarrassing because Trump has repeatedly slammed Clinton as untrustworthy.

“BUNGLED SO BADLY”

Questions have lingered over why the Trump campaign had not run simple plagiarism software that is commonly used to ensure that speakers do not inadvertently lift other people’s words, and why the campaign sought to deny and brush away the problem.

Republican strategist Ted Newton, president of Gravity Strategic Communications and a staffer in Republican Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential campaign, said the Trump campaign should have come clean much sooner.

“It sort of reflects the old adage: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up,” Newton said. “To have it bungled so badly is really a shame and sad for her.”

If the campaign had admitted what happened sooner, Newton said, “It would have been a bump in the road.”

In his first comments addressing the speech controversy, Trump argued early on Wednesday that the fuss could actually be a plus for his campaign, but he did not admit that passages were lifted from Michelle Obama’s words.

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“Good news is Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Under pressure to explain what had happened and who was to blame, Trump’s people offered different versions of events on Monday and Tuesday. He did not admit that the speech had borrowed from Michelle Obama’s words.

Hours before giving the speech, Melania Trump, a Slovenian-born jewelry designer and former model, told NBC’s “Today” that she had written it with as little help as possible. But her husband’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told CBS’s “This Morning” on Tuesday that it was a collaboration with speech writers.

As late as Wednesday, just hours before McIver’s statement, Manafort was pressed again on the issue, on CNN. He did not say words had been lifted from the Michelle Obama speech and sought to stress the overall effectiveness of the speech. “The controversy that you’re talking about is not meaningful at all,” he said.

McIver said she had offered to resign over the speech controversy, but Trump and his family had rejected the offer. The Trump Organization is owned by Donald Trump.

McIver is listed as a writer on some of Trump’s most popular books, including “Trump: How to Get Rich” and “Trump: Think Like a Billionaire.” Her author’s biography in “How to Get Rich” says she was a Ford Foundation scholar who graduated from the University of Utah, as well as a member of the Trump Organization.

SOLIDARITY WITH RUNNING MATE

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Trump was making a show of solidarity on Wednesday with his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a social conservative who is at odds with the New York businessman on many issues. Pence is the keynote speaker on Wednesday at the convention, which concludes on Thursday night when Trump accepts the Republican nomination.

Trump made an arrival in Cleveland on Wednesday fitting with his larger-than-life personality, landing in a helicopter emblazoned with his last name on the tail. Playing over the loudspeakers was the soaring tune of the movie “Air Force One.” Stepping off the aircraft, he greeted Pence and was handed a microphone.

He told a crowd that Pence is “going to make an unbelievable vice president of the United States.”

“We’re excited to hear you address the nation tomorrow night,” Pence said. “I’m confident that what begins in Cleveland will end in the White House.”

Pence has been well-received by people in the party’s social conservative wing, who have been skeptical of Trump’s commitment to opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

Social conservatives trust his vice presidential candidate, but joint appearances between the two men have been awkward.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Amy Tennery and Emily Stevenson; Writing by Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

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