White House spokesman Josh Earnest
White House spokesman Josh EarnestReuters

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday played down allegations that Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, plagiarized a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Side-by-side comparisons revealed that lines from Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention appeared to have been lifted directly from Obama’s speech in 2008, with few modifications.

On Wednesday, however, the Trump campaign released a formal statement from speechwriter Meredith McIver, who took full responsibility for the address and the plagiarized lines.

McIver said that in preparing the speech, she had asked Mrs. Trump to name people who had inspired her. Among others, Melania Trump mentioned the First Lady, whom she “has always liked”.

Mrs. Trump then read McIver a number of passages from Mrs. Obama over the phone. McIver says she included some of the phrasing provided by Mrs. Trump, and failed to check Michelle Obama’s addresses to see if there were any direct quotations.

“This was my mistake,” wrote McIver, “and I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant.”

Referring to the saga later on Wednesday, Earnest told reporters that the similarities showed the country's values were largely shared, even if political leaders had differences.

"That certainly buttresses an argument that the president has been making quite frequently of late, about the country not being as divided as it might seem," Earnest was quoted by Reuters as having said.