Donald Trump’s campaign on Tuesday downplayed the overt similarities between Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention on Monday and First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech.
In a series of early-morning media appearances, top campaign officials and surrogates shrugged off the controversy, which emerged after observers noticed striking similarities between a section of the two speeches.
On “CBS This Morning,” campaign chair Paul Manafort denied that Melania Trump lifted any of Michelle Obama’s speech, saying that there were “not that many similarities.” He also alleged that Melania Trump may have lifted from Michelle Obama’s speech “subconsciously.”
“It’s basically three places in the speech, and it’s fragments of words,” Manafort said.
He added: “There was nothing that she did in that speech that she thought was any words but herself.”
Manafort defended the speech-writing process, which he described as a “collaboration” between Melania Trump and the campaign, and said that he “can’t remember what Obama said eight years ago.”
“We’re talking about compassion, love of family, respect – these are not words that belong to the Obama family,” Manafort said.
But in a press conference Tuesday morning, the campaign chair alleged that presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign was responsible for finding the clip.
“It’s just another example as far as we’re concerned that when Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy the person,” Manafort said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was considered as a potential running mate for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, defended Trump’s wife on the “Today” show Tuesday. He said that the Trump campaign was “trying to do a lot of things at one time,” and added that he would not describe the speech as plagiarized.
“Not when 93% of the speech is different than Michelle Obama’s speech,” Christie said.
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“I know Melania. I think she worked very hard on that speech. And a lot of what I heard last night sitting on the floor sounded very much like her and the way she speaks about Donald all the time,” Christie added.
Top Republicans are hoping that the story will get buried by news from convention speeches on Tuesday.
At a breakfast in Cleveland hosted by Bloomberg Politics, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus speculated that the story would fizzle out by the afternoon, but advised the campaign to fire the speechwriter.
“Some of these things are pretty common types of themes,” Priebus said.
He added: “The distraction gets you off message a little bit this morning, but I think we’ll get back to action this afternoon.”
Democrats were quick to denounce the lifted lines from the speech.
In an interview on CNN on Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the Trump campaign’s denial that the speech was plagiarized raises a larger question about the campaign’s integrity.
“Anytime they are caught red-handed engaging in distortions, inaccuracies, a fact pattern that is clearly not accurate, they blame someone else,” Schultz said. “And so they should be prepared to be held accountable for the content of anything delivered from the stage of the Republican National Convention.”
In a statement early Tuesday morning, senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said Melania Trump’s team of speechwriters “took notes on her life’s inspirations and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.”
Said Miller: “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”