Seeking to put out a political fire, a Trump Organization staff writer took the blame Wednesday for the plagiarism controversy that has threatened to overshadow Donald Trump's triumphant Republican National Convention.
The nation is to get its first good look Wednesday night at Trump's vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as he addresses the convention. But the noise surrounding Melania Trump's Monday night speech was all but drowning it out.
After the campaign spent 36 hours dismissing the dustup as absurd — and any similarities with a 2008 Michelle Obama speech as coincidence — Meredith McIver said Wednesday she had included passages from Mrs. Obama's speech in Mrs. Trump's address. McIver said she offered her resignation over the incident, but Donald Trump rejected it.
"This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant," McIver said in a statement released by the Trump Organization. "Mr. Trump told me people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from experiences."
In working with Melania Trump on her recent First Lady speech, we discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people. A person she has always like is Michelle Obama. Over the phone she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples.
I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech. 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 identified herself as a staff writer at the Trump Organization, not a campaign employee. But her statement was the first sign of the Trump campaign acknowledging the similarities between the speeches as more than just coincidence. The campaign spent much of Tuesday dismissing the plagiarism charges as politically motivated and overblown.
McIver's statement revived persistent questions about Trump's campaign operation and distracted anew from his attempts to reshape his image. Mrs. Trump's remarks were the first of several planned family testimonials aimed at recasting the celebrity showman as a serious-minded family man.
It's a project proving harder than uniting Republicans behind their distaste for another brand they know well: The Clintons.
Trump, the real estate mogul and reality television star, secured the GOP mantle Tuesday night in a roll call vote that officially brought the outsider into the heart of American politics. The tallying of the votes was followed by a display of Trump's two-track persuasion effort: Testimonials vouching for his character — delivered by his family — and searing indictments of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's character — delivered by the rest of the party.
Trump adviser Paul Manafort acknowledged both elements Wednesday, noting the campaign is "trying to show other parts of his personality."
"We feel the America people don't know all of Donald Trump," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Portraits of the softer side of Trump, however, have been fleeting moments in a convention with a clear, hard edge. Republicans have shown a visceral reaction to a possible second Clinton presidency and have sought to capitalize on that emotion. Outside the convention hall, vendors are selling lewd T-shirts and buttons mocking her. Inside, delegates have repeatedly broken out in chants of "Lock her up!" and cheered on speakers who labeled her a liar.
The Trump campaign has tried to gloss over the rough treatment. Manafort on Wednesday called it merely an "undertone" of the event and stood by the assertion that Clinton should be in jail. Some Republicans believe firmly Clinton should be prosecuted for mishandling classified material during her time as secretary of state, Manafort said.
The rebranding effort continues on Day 3. Eric Trump, the candidate's 32-year-old son and a close adviser, is to deliver a speech aimed at answering what motivates his father to leave a life of luxury resorts and golf for the gritty work of politics: "Why is my father doing it? Why does he care this much? Why now?" he said.
Wednesday's program also will bring two conservative stalwarts to the stage: Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Pence, a favorite of evangelicals; and the nominee's most tenacious challenger in the primaries, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the man Trump used to call "Lyin' Ted."
Pence is heartily on board the Trump bandwagon; Cruz isn't yet, nor are many of his supporters in Cleveland. The senator's Wednesday night address will be keenly watched as a measure of whether a desire to beat Clinton can heal even the deepest wounds.
There are signs the answer is: not quite. Cruz isn't expected to offer a full-throated endorsement of Trump, but will at least "suggest" that he is backing Trump's candidacy for president, Manafort said.
Cruz's hedging could provide a reminder of how Trump's polarizing, unpredictable bid for the nomination has alienated Republicans both on the right and in the center.
The divide has spilled over into the convention, which has been dominated by a thwarted attempt to block Trump's nomination and as well as Mrs. Trump's speech.
Her personal remarks Monday night, well-received by the delegates and many TV viewers, was quickly criticized for including passages that were similar to Mrs. Obama's at the 2008 Democratic convention. Two passages of 30 words or more were nearly identical.
McIver's statement said she and Mrs. Trump had discussed many people who had inspired her, including Mrs. Obama, "and messages she wanted to share with the American people." The writer said she took notes from the conversation. Those notes found themselves into the final draft, she said.