Donald Trump is blaming a "lousy earpiece" for his repeated failure during a CNN interview to condemn a prominent ex-Klu Klux Klan leader who recently endorsed him.
During an appearance Monday morning on NBC's Today, Trump swore that he couldn't hear clearly when CNN's Jake Tapper asked him three times to condemn the white supremacist David Duke during an interview on Sunday.
"I'm sitting in a house in Florida, with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying," Trump said. "What I heard was 'various groups.' And I don't mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke." Later in the interview, he said it was a "lousy earpiece."
When Trump was asked on Sunday if he would unequivocally condemn white supremacists and reject their support, he said he needed to do more research on the "various groups" before he would disavow them.
"I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about," Trump said. "You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I'd have to look."
When Tapper pointed out that the group in question was the KKK, Trump continued to feign ignorance.
"Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, okay? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know, did he endorse me or what's going on," Trump said on CNN.
Trump's failure to reject his white supremacist supporters — just two days before Super Tuesday, the biggest primary voting day — instantly sparked outrage, and other Republican candidates quickly used the incident as ammunition for attacks on Trump.
Marco Rubio said on Sunday that Trump's comments disqualified him to be president. "We cannot be the party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan," Rubio said at a rally in Virginia. "By the way, not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable. How are we going to grow our party with a nominee that refuses to condemn the Ku Klux Klan?"
Rubio added: "Don't tell me he doesn't know what the Ku Klux Klan is. This is serious."
Ted Cruz also took to Twitter on Sunday to slam Trump. "Really sad. @realDonaldTrump you're better than this," Cruz tweeted. "We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent."
John Kasich also criticized Trump and tweeted, "Hate groups have no place in America. We are stronger together. End of story."
It was enough controversy for Trump to walk back on his comments — something he almost never does.
Trump clarified on Monday that he is familiar with Duke, "but I never met David Duke. I disavowed David Duke the day before."
Trump had in fact objected to Duke's support during a press conference on Friday, which made it all the more obvious that he knew who Duke was when asked about the issue two days later.
Soon after his CNN appearance on Sunday, Trump seemed to sense that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to vacillate on the issue of white supremacy, and soon tweeted a video of his earlier disavowal.
Duke is a former KKK grand wizard who urged the audience of his radio show to support Trump last Wednesday. He said that voting for anyone other than Trump "is really a treason to your heritage."
This is not the first time that the current Republican frontrunner has received support from Duke. When Trump was asked about an endorsement from Duke last August, he brushed it off. "I don't need anyone's endorsement," Trump told Bloomberg. "People like me across the board. Everybody likes me."
Other white supremacists have been supporting Trump from the beginning of his candidacy.
Don Black, a former Klu Klux Klan leader who runs the white supremacist website Stormfront.org, told VICE News in December that Trump has sparked interest from white supremacists. Black said said that Trump "has clearly been a benefit to us," referring to the white supremacist community.
"There's an insurgency among our people that has been seething for decades that have felt intimidated and demoralized," Black added. "The Trump candidacy has changed all that."
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928