NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has changed his tune after refusing to disavow an endorsement from David Duke on Sunday, saying he doesn’t know anything about the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Trump was asked whether he would declare that he didn’t want Duke’s support, or that of other white supremacists in the presidential election.
Trump replied he didn’t “know anything about David Duke.”
“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” Trump said on CNN. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I have to look.”
He added that if he were sent a list of groups he would research them and “certainly” would disavow any if he thought there was “something wrong.”
Duke had told his radio followers this week that a vote against Trump was equivalent to “treason to your heritage.”
But later Sunday, Trump tweeted that he did, in fact, disavow Duke’s endorsement.
Regardless of his Twitter post, Sen. Marco Rubio took Trump to task about his refusal to disavow on CNN.
“We cannot be a party who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan,” Rubio told thousands of supporters gathered in Leesburg, Virginia. “Not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable. How are we going to grow the party if we nominate someone who doesn’t repudiate the Ku Klux Klan?”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also weighed in, calling Trump’s comments “really sad.”
“You’re better than this,” Cruz wrote. “We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also lashed out, writing on Twitter “America’s first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hatemonger who refuses to condemn the KKK.”
Local leaders weighed in on the KKK connection as well. Mayor Bill de Blasio went off on a tirade Monday at a news conference that was supposed to be about tenants’ rights, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“It is 2016 in the United States of America and Donald Trump cannot disavow the KKK, this is unbelievable; it’s disgusting,” said de Blasio.
Trump hasn’t always claimed ignorance on Duke’s history. In 2000, he wrote a New York Times op-ed explaining why he abandoned the possibility of running for president on the Reform Party ticket. He wrote of an “underside” and “fringe element” of the party, concluding, “I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep.”
CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reports that Trump believes he will sweep on Super Tuesday.
Despite the controversy, Trump received his first endorsement from the Senate — Sen. Jeff Sessions.
The Republican senator from Alabama announced his support while standing alongside Trump during a rally.