How The Trump Camp And Its Allies Explained Away Melania Trump's Plagiarism

Tom Williams

Although it became clear fairly quickly after Melania Trump's Monday night speech that her remarks has used significant portions from Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic convention speech, the Donald Trump campaign on Tuesday morning struggled to acknowledge the plagiarism.

Initially, the campaign issued a bizarrely vague statement in the middle of the night that failed to acknowledge directly that the speech included lines from Michelle Obama's speech. And then campaign chair Paul Manafort spent much of Tuesday morning denying that the campaign had plagiarized parts of the speech at all.

While officials with the campaign and the Republican Party avoided conclusively saying that the speech lifted from Michelle Obama's remarks, as the morning unfolded some of Trump's allies began to acknowledge that the campaign screwed up.

The first response from the Trump campaign came in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, with a statement that touted Melania Trump's speech and cryptically said that the remarks "in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking."

Manafort then denied that the speech lifted from Michelle Obama during an appearance on CNN.

"There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech," he said. "These were common words and values — that she cares about her family, things like that. I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy."

He also blamed the narrative surrounding plagiarism on Hillary Clinton's campaign, telling CNN, "This is once again an example of when a women threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down."

Manafort elaborated on his defense during an appearance on CBS' "This Morning."

"They're a couple of phrases. It's basically three places in the speech and its fragments of words," Manafort said of the speeches' similarities.

"We're talking about words like compassion, love of family, respect," he continued on CBS. "These are not words that are unique words, that belong to the Obamas."

In response to a question on NBC's "Today" about whether the Trump campaign plagiarized in Melania Trump's speech, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would not call it plagiarism, but at the same time seemed to acknowledged that the two speeches were similar.

He said that it's not plagiarism "when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech." He added that the two speeches "expressed some common thoughts."

But Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on Tuesday morning came out with a slightly harsher reaction. When asked about the speech at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast Tuesday morning, Priebus said he would "probably" fire the speechwriter responsible for Melania Trump's speech. He also defended the speech, arguing that Melania Trump is not to blame and that the portions of the speech in question "are pretty common themes."

Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, said on Tuesday morning that if Melania Trump's speech "was a mistake, it was at the staff level and staff should be held accountable."

But even as Republican officials began to acknowledge the Trump campaign's mistake, Manafort doubled down on his denial that the campaign's speechwriters took portions from Michelle Obama's speech.

"These are themes that are personal to her but they’re personal to a lot of people, depending on the stories of their lives. Obviously, Michelle Obama feels very much similar sentiments towards her family," he said during a press conference when asked about plagiarism in the speech.

He said that focus on the similarities with Michelle Obama's speech ignores "the facts of the speech itself."

"We don't believe there's anything in that speech that doesn't reflect her thinking," he said. "We're comfortable that the words she used are words that were personal to her. The fact that there are things like 'care' and 'respect' and 'compassion,' those are not extraordinary words. And certainly when you talk about family, they're normal words."

Manafort instead blamed the media and repeated his accusation that the talk about plagiarism began with the Clinton campaign.

"You all are focusing on trying to distort that message in some respects," he said before adding that there's a "political tint" to coverage of the speech. "And certainly we've noted that the Clinton camp was the first to get it out there in trying to say that there was something untoward about the speech that Melania Trump gave. It's just another example, as far as we concerned, that when Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy the person."

However, it appears that reports on plagiarism began when Jarrett Hill noted similarities between the two speeches on Twitter. And the Clinton campaign hit back against Manafort's accusations that they were behind the accusations.

Nice try, not true. @PaulManafort, blaming Hillary Clinton isn't the answer for ever Trump campaign problem. https://t.co/RvZ5GKeDYd

— Jennifer Palmieri (@jmpalmieri) July 19, 2016

With the campaign reeling, Lewandowski went on CNN and dumped all over Manafort, his former rival within the campaign until Trump fired Lewandowski.

"I think Paul [Manafort] needs to take a deep look inside, and understand what the process was, make sure the protocols were in place," he said. "I think if it was Paul Manafort, he would do the right thing and resign."

Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson rejected the idea that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama's speech in an interview with The Hill, arguing that Melania Trump simply talked about "hard work, determination, family values, dedication and respect."

"This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.
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