CLEVELAND — The Trump campaign admitted Wednesday that a speechwriter for Melania Trump did, in fact, crib from first lady Michelle Obama, hoping to defuse the embarrassing story — but raising still more questions about the campaign’s competence and truthfulness.
Meredith McIver, an employee for Trump businesses, took the blame for the pilfered words, and said she offered to resign on Tuesday — contradicting campaign officials’ statements as late as Wednesday morning that Mrs. Trump had crafted the speech herself, and didn’t borrow from the first lady at all.
GOP nominee Donald Trump refused to accept Ms. McIver’s resignation, but she issued a public apology explaining what happened.
She said the problem began when Mrs. Trump read passages from Mrs. Obama’s 2008 speech over the phone, and Ms. McIver wrote them down and later included them in the speech she was writing. Mrs. Trump “has always liked” the first lady, Ms. McIver said.
“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,” Ms. McIver said.
The letter, and the revelation that Ms. McIver wrote the speech, raised still more questions.
Ms. McIver’s letter was written with a Trump Organization letterhead but was released by the campaign. An anti-Trump political action committee argued that the situation constituted an illegal campaign contribution, but the Trump campaign said Ms. McIver volunteered her time.
Mr. Trump mocked the press for so closely scrutinizing Mrs. Trump’s remarks. “The media is spending more time doing a forensic analysis of Melania’s speech than the FBI spent on Hillary’s emails,” he tweeted.
In a later interview with ABC News, Mr. Trump said Ms. McIver has been with him for a long time and that she’s a “terrific person.”
“She made a mistake, and people make mistakes.” Mr. Trump said.
“I thought it was terrific the way she came forward and … said ‘look, it was a mistake that I made,’” he said. “She thought it was very unfair to Melania.”
But just hours before Ms. McIver’s letter was released, the Trump campaign had insisted the words were Mrs. Trump’s own — more or less.
“We don’t really know what was done and who it was done by,” campaign chairman Paul Manafort said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “As far as we’re concerned, the speech is Melania’s speech.”
“I’m not lying about anything,” Mr. Manafort had said in a separate appearance on CNN after being accused of lying about the situation.
“As far as we’re concerned, there are similar words that were used. We’ve said that. But the feelings of those words and the commonality of those words do not create a situation which we feel we have to agree with you,” he told the network.
The Trump campaign had also said the ensuing uproar over the speech was evidence of Hillary Clinton feeling threatened by a woman.
Stacia Huyler, an alternate delegate from Rhode Island, said the media was spending too much time on the overall matter with other more pressing issues to deal with.
“To take the time and pick that apart — we have a lot at stake here,” she said. “I think it’s a distraction with what we really need to be focused on.”
During her speech Monday evening, Mrs. Trump had spoken about hard work and passing on values to the next generation at one point during the address.
“My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say and keep your promise — that you treat people with respect,” she said.
In her speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Obama had said: “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values, like you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that you do what you say you’re going to do — that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them and even if you don’t agree with them.”
On Monday, Mrs. Trump then said: “That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”
Mrs. Obama went on to say in her address: “And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and to pass them on to the next generation, because we want our children and all children in this nation to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.”