By Erica Werner and Jill Colvin
CLEVELAND (AP) — This was to have been Melania Trump’s moment, her first real introduction to American voters who’d seen her by her husband’s side for months but had barely heard her speak.
But within moments of Mrs. Trump’s triumphant appearance on the Republican National Convention stage, accusations of plagiarism surfaced, eclipsing her achievement in the latest stumble by the Trump campaign.
Trump’s advisers defiantly denied the charge Tuesday, though the word-for-word overlap was obvious between Mrs. Trump’s remarks the night before and two passages in Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to the Democratic convention in Denver. How that had come about remained unclear.
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort called the criticism “just absurd” and said the issue had been “totally blown out of proportion.”
“There were a few words on it, but they’re not words that were unique words,” he told The Associated Press. “Ninety-nine percent of that speech talked about her being an immigrant and love of country and love of family and everything else.”
Manafort also tried to blame Hillary Clinton, saying on CNN, “This is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down.”
The passages in question came near the beginning of Mrs. Trump’s nearly 15-minute speech.
In one example, Mrs. Trump said: “From a young age, 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.”
Eight years ago, Mrs. Obama said: “And 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.”
There were similar overlaps in a passage dealing with conveying to children that there is no limit to what they can achieve. Mrs. Trump’s address was otherwise distinct from the speech that Mrs. Obama gave when her husband was being nominated for president.
The White House declined to wade into the controversy Tuesday.
Nobody from the campaign is expected to be fired over the incident, according to a person familiar with campaign deliberations who demanded anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Trump’s son, Donald Jr., faulted outside speechwriters: “Those are the people that did this, not Paul (Manafort),” he said in an interview with CBS News and other reporters.
Yet for Mrs. Trump, 46, a Slovenian-born former model who is Donald Trump’s third wife and 24 years his junior, the controversy marred a moment in the spotlight that had been months in the making. It required her to overcome her wariness about public speaking and the traditional role of the politician’s wife, as well as her heavily accented English, to present herself to the public as her husband’s partner, a poised mother and wife passionate about issues impacting women and children.
Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, has taken up much of the role of the typical political spouse. She was the one who introduced her father at his official campaign announcement and appears often by his side. Melania has sat for a handful of interviews, in which she’s described herself as a private person, focused on raising the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron.
But on Monday she delivered her speech with deliberation and poise, and it was rapturously received by convention delegates. Listeners compared her to Jackie Kennedy and said she’d won hearts from the GOP crowd.
Many delegates were eager to defend her, convinced that whatever had happened, Mrs. Trump herself was not to blame. And they were sympathetic that her moment in the sun had turned into the latest black eye for her husband’s rocky campaign.
Nebraska delegate J.L. Spray, a member of the Republican National Committee, said the part of the speech that matched Mrs. Obama’s “was such non-substantive stuff. The media and the Democrats needed something to focus on, so they came up with this. If you say ‘God bless America’ at the end of your speech, are you plagiarizing Ronald Reagan?”
Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher in Cleveland and Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this report.