NBC Today hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie did not press Paul Manafort, chairman of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, in an interview about whether the speechwriter who took responsibility for plagiarism in Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech was employed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. If it’s the latter, that may be a violation of federal law.
The Trump campaign has come under fire for the July 18 speech by the candidate’s wife, which plagiarized portions of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. The campaign and Manafort initially lied, claiming that “no cribbing” occurred and and to claim that it did is “crazy.” On July 20, the campaign released a statement in which an “in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization” named Meredith McIver took responsibility for the plagiarism and said she had offered her resignation but that Donald Trump did not accept it. The statement was also written on the letterhead of Trump’s conglomerate the Trump Organization, not the Trump campaign.
According to The Washington Post, if Trump’s campaign “used corporate resources” to help with Melania Trump’s speech, “that could be illegal.” The Post quoted Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, and reported, “If the campaign used corporate resources ‘willingly and knowingly,’ the offense is a criminal one.” The paper explained Noble’s rationale: “If she was working for the campaign,” it would have been legal, “but it seems clear that she offered to resign from her theoretically unrelated Trump Organization job.”
Discussing the controversy during the July 21 edition of Today, Manafort conceded that McIver “was somebody who was not part of the campaign,” and Lauer noted she was “part of the Trump Organization.” Manafort added that he “didn't even know [McIver] was involved in the process” and “didn't even know of her existence.” Rather than pressing Manafort about the specific arrangement of McIver’s role in the campaign, Lauer transitioned to discussing Trump’s upcoming convention speech:
MATT LAUER (CO-HOST): Let me just go back to something we talked to you about on Monday morning -- or Tuesday morning, excuse me, the morning after Melania Trump's speech where it was widely believed she had plagiarized portions of that speech. You came onto other shows and this show. You said, “No, there was no plagiarizing. There was no cribbing.” You even went as far as to blame Hillary Clinton. We now know in the last 24 [hours] that yeah, it was a mistake on the part of a speechwriter. That person has taken the blame for it. So when you said, “When Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy that person,” would you offer Secretary Clinton an apology for blaming her?
PAUL MANAFORT: First of all, you have to put the situation in context. It wasn't a speechwriter. This was somebody who was not a part of the campaign.
LAUER: Part of the Trump Organization.
MANAFORT: And I didn't even know she was involved in the process. When I spoke to Melania Trump, she said, and she believes and still does, that she did not put those words in there. She did not know that they were words from Michelle Obama, those specific words.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (CO-HOST): Sorry, but that statement says the exact opposite. And Trump told The New York Times he knew two days ago that in fact Melania had said the speech -- the question is really not about whether she did or she didn't. It's really a matter of candor and whether you knew that those words came from Michelle Obama's speech.
MANAFORT: And I did not know. I was told by Mrs. Trump and I believe Mrs. Trump and I don't think Mrs. Trump still believes she personally put those words in that speech. And as far as Ms. [McIver's] concern, I didn't even know of her existence. I asked the speechwriters if they had done it. They said no. I asked Mrs. Trump. She said no. And as far as I was concerned, there was no one else in the process and so therefore that was my position.
LAUER: Huge night for your candidate tonight. What’s he going to say, what do you want him to say?