CLEVELAND >> Seeking to put out a political fire, a Trump Organization staff writer took the blame Wednesday for the plagiarism controversy that has threatened to overshadow Donald Trump's triumphant Republican National Convention.
The nation is to get its first good look Wednesday night at Trump's vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as he addresses the convention. But the noise surrounding Melania Trump's Monday night speech was all but drowning it out.
After the campaign spent 36 hours dismissing the dustup as absurd — and any similarities with a 2008 Michelle Obama speech as coincidence — Meredith McIver said Wednesday she had included passages from Mrs. Obama's speech in Mrs. Trump's address. McIver said she offered her resignation over the incident, but Donald Trump rejected it.
"This was my mistake and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant," McIver said in a statement released by the Trump Organization. "Mr. Trump told me people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from experiences."
McIver identified herself as a staff writer at the Trump Organization, not a campaign employee. But her statement was the first sign of the campaign acknowledging the similarities between the speeches as more than just coincidence. The campaign spent much of Tuesday dismissing the plagiarism charges as politically motivated and overblown.
Trump arrived in Cleveland Wednesday afternoon, in his helicopter on the shore of Lake Erie. He was greeted with handshakes from Pence and hugs from his grown children. Mrs. Trump, who flew back to New York after her speech, was due to return Thursday, along with the youngest Trump, 10-year-old Barron.
The plagiarism controversy has raised persistent questions about Trump's campaign operation and distracted anew from his attempts to reshape his image. Mrs. Trump's remarks were the first of several planned family testimonials aimed at recasting the celebrity showman as a serious-minded family man.
It's a project proving harder than uniting Republicans behind their distaste for another brand they know well: The Clintons.
Trump, the real estate mogul and reality television star, secured the GOP mantle Tuesday night in a roll call vote that officially brought the outsider into the heart of American politics. The tallying of the votes was followed by a display of Trump's two-track persuasion effort: Testimonials vouching for his character — delivered by his family — and searing indictments of Democratic rival Clinton's character — delivered by the rest of the party.
Portraits of the softer side of Trump, however, have been fleeting moments in a convention with a clear, hard edge. Republicans have shown a visceral reaction to a possible second Clinton presidency and have sought to capitalize on that emotion. Outside the convention hall, vendors are selling lewd T-shirts and buttons mocking her. Inside, delegates have repeatedly broken out in chants of "Lock her up!" and cheered on speakers who labeled her a liar.
Some Republicans insist Clinton should be prosecuted for mishandling classified material during her time as secretary of state.
The rebranding effort continues on Day 3. Eric Trump, the candidate's 32-year-old son and a close adviser, is to deliver a speech aimed at answering what motivates his father to interrupt a life of luxury resorts and golf for the gritty work of politics: "Why is my father doing it? Why does he care this much? Why now?" he said.
Wednesday's program also will bring two conservative stalwarts to the stage: Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Pence, a favorite of evangelicals; and the nominee's most tenacious challenger in the primaries, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the man Trump used to call "Lyin' Ted."
Pence is heartily on board the Trump bandwagon; Cruz isn't yet, nor are many of his supporters in Cleveland. The senator's Wednesday night address will be keenly watched as a measure of whether a desire to beat Clinton can heal even the deepest wounds.
There are signs the answer is: not quite. Cruz isn't expected to offer a full-throated endorsement of Trump, but will at least "suggest" that he is backing Trump's candidacy for president, Manafort said.
Cruz showed no ill will toward Trump on Wednesday when he rallied his supporters at a lakeside luncheon, soaking in chants of "2020! 2020!" urging him to run again. Still, the freshman senator was reminded whose party he is attending.
When Trump's personal jet buzzed over the political picnic, Cruz chuckled aloud, "That was pretty well orchestrated."
If he hedges onstage Wednesday night, Cruz will deliver another reminder of how Trump's polarizing, unpredictable bid for the nomination has alienated Republicans both on the right and in the center.
The divide has spilled over into the convention, which has been dominated by a thwarted attempt to block Trump's nomination and as well as Mrs. Trump's speech.
Her personal remarks Monday night, well-received by the delegates and many TV viewers, were quickly criticized for including passages that were similar to Mrs. Obama's at the 2008 Democratic convention.
McIver's statement said she and Mrs. Trump had discussed many people who had inspired her, including Mrs. Obama, "and messages she wanted to share with the American people." The writer said she took notes from the conversation. Those notes found themselves into the final draft, she said.
Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.