A day after Melania Trump’s alleged plagiarism of Michelle Obama in her speech to the Republican National Convention largely dominated the news cycle, Donald Trump’s campaign chief was eager to talk about something else. CNN’s Chris Cuomo, however, was not.
In a contentious interview on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday, Cuomo tried repeatedly to get top Trump aide Paul Manafort to admit that Melania Trump’s speech on the convention’s opening night contained passages lifted from Michelle Obama’s address to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
But Manafort would not budge, telling Cuomo to “move on.”
“I can’t move on, because you keep lying about it. So I can’t move on from it,” Cuomo said. “Because I have to talk about what is true.”
“I’m not lying about anything, Chris,” Manafort replied. “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.”
Cuomo was undeterred.
“You don’t like that you got caught with some of Michelle Obama’s language in the speech,” he said. “You don’t want to acknowledge it because that’s the way this campaign works. … When faced with something that you did wrong, you just deny it, no matter whether it’s true or not. Whether it’s the man who has a developmental disability who works for the New York Times, and Donald Trump mocks him and then says, ‘No, I didn’t.’ Whether it’s a star that represents the Star of David and you say, ‘No, it’s a sheriff’s star.’ There is a pattern. … There’s a pattern of denying the obvious. What happens when you’re running the government of the United States?”
“The controversy that you’re talking about is not meaningful at all. She’s not a candidate for office,” Manafort said. “Last night, you know, at 7:17, Donald Trump became the nominee of the Republican Party, defying all the conventional wisdom, and put himself in a position to become the 45th president of the United States. That’s the story.”
In her headline speech Monday night in Cleveland, Melania Trump spoke about the values that her parents instilled in her.
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life,” she said, “that your word is your bond, and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.”
The address, which the would-be first lady delivered after a brief introduction by her husband, was well-received by the GOP delegation. But viewers noticed strong similarities between Melania Trump’s speech and the one Michelle Obama delivered to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
On Tuesday, Manafort dismissed questions surrounding the similarities as “absurd.”
“These were common words and values,” Manafort said on CNN. “To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy. This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It’s not going to work.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 20, 2016
In a statement, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller did not address the plagiarism allegations, instead appearing to blame those who helped her draft the speech.
“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances, included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” Miller said. “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.”
According to the New York Times, the Trump campaign hired a pair of veteran speechwriters, Matthew Scully and John McConnell, to draft Melania’s remarks. But “inside Trump Tower,” the Times reported, she “decided she was uncomfortable with the text, and began tearing it apart, leaving a small fraction of the original.”
Before her primetime convention debut, the Slovenian-born former model told NBC’s Matt Lauer that she had prepared the speech almost entirely herself.
“I read once over it and that’s all, because I wrote it,” she said, “with as little help as possible.”
Donald Trump Jr., who delivered his own speech at the convention on Tuesday night, said there was nothing unique about the lines Melania allegedly lifted.
“I don’t think there was anything in there that was that novel in terms of those particular lines,” he told ABC News. “I saw some pretty common words in there. Honestly, you know, there was no novel thought in that.”
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) July 20, 2016
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dismissed the controversy, too.
“Who cares?” Gingrich said on CNN. “The fact is Melania gave a good speech. She is stunningly attractive. She is stunningly articulate. Most of the people criticizing her can’t speak five languages.”
Gingrich called the claims of plagiarism “a glitch.”
“In the middle of an extraordinarily triumphant moment, there’s a glitch,” he said. “And the glitch becomes the story.”