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Trump Campaign's Shifting Story on Speech Raises New Questions

The original draft of Melania Trump’s RNC speech did not include the section that appears to have been lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.
Image: Republican National Convention: Day One
Melania Trump, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, delivers a speech on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The original draft of Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech did not include the section that appears to have been lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, according to documents obtained exclusively by NBC News.

The Trump campaign’s shifting story — with Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort initially saying it would be “crazy” for Melania to lift from Obama’s speech, but hours later Donald Trump Jr. blaming unnamed speechwriters and saying they "should’ve cleaned it up better" — kept the matter alive well into the second night of convention festivities.

But the documents, including the original draft and corroborating emails, obtained by NBC News, suggest the passage in question originated within the Trump campaign, and raises new questions for the GOP nominee’s top aides, who spent much of Tuesday deflecting blame and insisting there was nothing wrong with Melania Trump's speech.

Related: Ex-Obama Speechwriters React to Melania Trump's Speech

Melania Trump told NBC News Monday, just hours before delivering the speech, that she largely wrote it herself.

"I read it once over, and that's all because I wrote it with as little help as possible,'' she told TODAY's Matt Lauer.

The campaign repeatedly refused to identify who, if anyone, helped her craft the speech, though multiple sources told NBC News that Rick Gates, a top aide and ally of Manafort, signed off on the final text. Sources close to the Trump campaign tell NBC News that the Trump team hired Matthew Scully, a veteran speechwriter who drafted Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention speech, to write Melania Trump’s speech. The draft he submitted to the Trump campaign includes none of the portions in question.

Related: Melania Trump: Far From the First Political Plagiarism Scandal

A senior Trump aide tells NBC that Scully created an early draft, but that was rejected and the process started over, adding Scully’s initial draft didn’t make its way into the final version.

Portions of Scully’s work were, however, included in the text as delivered by Melania Trump on Monday. The first six paragraphs of the text as delivered were largely written by Scully, as well as a significant chunk of the conclusion, during which Melania touted the “talent…energy…tenacity” of her husband and the significance of the fall campaign.

Scully wrote in his draft: “There will be highs and lows and unexpected turns — it wouldn’t be a Trump enterprise without them.”

Melania delivered that line with minor tweaks: “There will be good times and hard times and unexpected turns — it would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.”

But Scully’s draft doesn’t include the sections in which Melania Trump talks about her interest in helping children and women if she becomes First Lady, or the values she and her husband will bring to the White House if he’s elected — or the shout-out to former Sen. Bob Dole, who notably employed Manafort and many of his top aides.

The speech — the most high-profile of the cycle for the notoriously press-shy Melania — did include the passages from the 2008 speech Michelle Obama gave at the convention where her husband was nominated by the Democratic party for president. Under a cloud of plagiarism, the scandal marred the first day of Trump’s convention, which aides had hoped would be a seamless display of GOP unity to help kick off the fall campaign.

Related: Who Should Be Held Accountable for Melania Trump's Speech

All day Tuesday, Trump campaign officials deflected questions over who, if anyone, would be fired for the issue with the speech.

Aides also downplayed the issue. Manafort told NBC News on Tuesday morning that Donald Trump was "very pleased with last night," and in a handful of media appearances Manafort downplayed the similarities between the two speeches and framed the controversy as overblown and driven by Democrats.

He insisted to CBS News there was "no cribbing" of Obama's speech and minimized the issue's relevance.

"Certainly there is no feeling on [Melania's] part that she did it," Manafort said. "What she did is use words that are common words."

He also said he didn’t believe "Donald Trump feels that there is anything to fire about."

Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer ridiculed the suggestion that any of Melania’s speech could’ve been plagiarized, drawing similarities between her remarks and quotes from the children's TV show "My Little Pony."

"A simple Google search of three phrases comes up with everything from Sparkle Pony to John Legend to Akon," Spicer said on MSNBC.

But Donald Trump Jr. appeared to contradict Manafort in an interview on CBS News Tuesday night, acknowledging there were "people who… should’ve cleaned it up better," and pointing fingers at unnamed speechwriters.

"I imagine there's people who shouldn't have done that or who should have cleaned it up better," he said.