How an out-of-work journalist first spotted the Melania Trump speech plagiarism

Posted at 3:15 PM, Jul 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-19 15:15:22-04

LOS ANGELES -- Donald Trump's presidential campaign doesn't plan to fire anybody or to take disciplinary action over the controversy surrounding Melania Trump's plagiarism of Michelle Obama, CNN learned Tuesday.

Trump's campaign hopes to simply move on without further addressing questions about the speech.

Aides to the presumptive Republican nominee are scrambling to move past the imbroglio after a passage in Melania Trump's speech Monday night, which headlined the Republican National Convention's opening night, closely mirrored a portion of Michelle Obama's address to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

The resemblance was first noticed by 31-year-old Jarrett Hill, a laid-off journalist sitting in a Starbucks in Los Angeles. Hill tweeted about the resemblance, and his tweet soon went viral.

Within minutes, the topic was being discussed during live coverage of the convention. Hill appeared on KTLA on Tuesday and explained how it all happened.

"She says... '...the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams,' and I say aloud, 'and your willingness to work for them.' And I thought... that's weird," Hill told KTLA. "I remembered Michelle Obama saying that at a convention... and I searched the (2008) speech for 'willingness.' Finally, someone put it on YouTube... and I noticed it's a few more words. A few more words. Whoa, it's a paragraph."

Hill said he thought someone else probably noticed the similarity, but it appears Hill started the conversation with his original tweet.

At the end of the interview with KTLA, Hill made it clear he's listening to any and all job offers.

On Tuesday, Hill tweeted that his mom his only "semi-impressed" with him -- but is proud of his "active listening."

"When your mom is only semi-impressed with you: "I'm proud of your active listening (when you want to listen). LOL Great job!" I'll take it."

Here is Melania Trump, on Monday:

"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. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son," Trump said.

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."

And here is Michelle Obama, on August 25, 2008:

"And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and 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.

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 for them."

The reaction

It's set off infighting and finger-pointing within Trump's campaign, and two sources told CNN that Donald Trump himself is furious about it.

Trump's aides chalked the controversy up to media bias and blamed Hillary Clinton's campaign -- even though the apparent plagiarism was discovered by an independent journalist and had gone viral before Clinton's allies and Democrats even weighed in.

In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day," campaign chairman Paul Manafort denied the allegations of plagiarism.

"To think that she would do something like that knowing how scrutinized her speech was going to be last night is just really absurd," Manafort said.

Manafort said the words Melania used were not "cribbed" but are common words.

"There's no cribbing of Michelle Obama's speech. These were common words and values. She cares about her family," Manafort said. "To think that she'd be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy."

However, Trump's campaign faced criticism even from allies, who largely blamed staffers -- not Melania Trump.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Tuesday that whoever is responsible for writing the should be fired.

"Whoever was the staff person who wrote this speech should be held accountable and should be fired," Lewandowski told CNN's John Berman and Kate Bolduan.

Lewandowski, who is a CNN contributor, was fired from the Trump campaign last month.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said at a Bloomberg Politics event Tuesday morning he'd "probably" fire whoever was responsible for including plagiarized quotes, though he added: "It all kinda depends on the circumstances and how these things are written."

The controversy quickly overshadowed the speech, which was to have been her introduction to voters. It focused on her immigration to the United States and her love for her husband.

The Trump campaign released a statement on the speech after the similarities were uncovered, but it did not mention the plagiarism charge.

"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. Melania's immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success," according to Jason Miller, the senior communications adviser.

New Jersey governor and Donald Trump ally Chris Christie defended the speech, saying, "There's no way that Melania Trump was plagiarizing Michelle Obama's speech."

"I just don't see it," Christie told CNN's Jamie Gangel in an interview Tuesday, adding later, "If we're talking about 7% of a speech, that was really, universally considered to be a good performance by Melania. I know her. There's no way that Melania Trump was plagiarizing Michelle Obama's speech."

"(To be honest), I was more offended by just about every other speech than Melania's plagiarized paragraphs," former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau jokingly tweeted as the accusations went viral hours after Trump's address.

Who wrote the speech?

Side-by-side comparisons of the transcripts show the text in Trump's address following, nearly to the word, the would-be future first lady's own from the first night of the Democratic convention in Denver nearly eight years ago.

Sources familiar with the campaign's handling of Melania Trump's speech identify top Manafort deputy Rick Gates as the person inside the campaign who oversaw the entire speech process for Melania Trump.

Gates is denying he oversaw the process of putting together the speech.

When CNN's Jim Acosta asked Gates if he oversaw the Melania Trump speech process, he said "absolutely not."

Democrats' role

Manafort, on CNN's "New Day," said the scrutiny over Melania Trump's speech was the work of Clinton's campaign.

"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," he said.

However, Trump's aides haven't pointed to any evidence of Democrats' involvement in fanning the controversy.

The Clinton campaign's communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Manafort's comments about Clinton's involvement were untrue.

"Nice try, not true. @PaulManafort, blaming Hillary Clinton isn't the answer for ever Trump campaign problem," Palmieri tweeted.

Clinton's campaign on Tuesday focused instead on bashing Republicans for other speeches Monday night, including the mother of a Benghazi attack victim saying she'd like to see Clinton imprisoned and the crowd chanting at another point, "Lock her up!" In a fundraising email to supporters, Clinton's campaign said "there's a difference between drawing a contrast and baselessly saying your opponent belongs in jail."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that President Barack Obama did not watch Monday night's speeches.

"As it relates to Mrs. Trump's speech, I'll let all of you weigh in on all of that and try to learn more about how exactly it was written," Earnest said. "What I can say that in 2008, when Mrs. Obama spoke, she received an enthusiastic reception and strong reviews because of her words, her life story, and the values that she and her husband deeply believe in and try to instill in their kids."

Earlier in the day, Melania Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer: "I read once over it, that's all, because I wrote it ... with (as) little help as possible."

Never gonna let you down?

In an even stranger twist, some on social media posited that Trump surreptitiously Rickrolled -- a common Internet meme involving singer Rick Astley -- everyone in the middle of her speech.

"He will never give up," she said of her husband. "And most importantly, he will never, ever let you down."

The chorus of the 80s classic sounds very similar: "Never gonna give you up/ Never gonna let you down/ Never gonna run around and desert you."

A bit of background -- Rickrolling is where you get someone to unwittingly click on a link to the video of the Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up."

So, for example, if someone were to tell you to click here, saying it's another article about Melania Trump, and you click on that link, you would be taken to an Astley video and thus have been Rickrolled.