During a State of the Union interview that aired Sunday morning, CNN's Jake Tapper asked the GOP front-runner whether he would disavow Duke and other white supremacist groups backing his bid for the White House.
"Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, okay?" Trump said.
Tapper pressed the billionaire businessman several times but he repeatedly refused to repudiate the KKK or its former leader.
"I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," Trump said. "So I don't know. I don't know – did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."
When Tapper pointed out that Trump could still condemn the groups even if he wasn't aware of their endorsements, the GOP hopeful replied, "Well, I have to look at the group. I don't know what group you are talking about, you wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about; I'd have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong –"
"The Ku Klux Klan?" Tapper interrupted. "I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here."
"I don't know any – honestly I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I've ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him, and I just don't know anything about him."
As CNN later pointed out, however, Trump apparently did know Duke in 2000. He referenced the former Klan leader in a statement at the time explaining why he had decided not to run a Reform Party presidential campaign: "The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep."
Trump's GOP presidential rivals were quick to condemn his State of the Union comments. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Sunday morning:
We cannot be a party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 28, 2016
And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted:
But it wasn't until more than three hours after the CNN interview that Trump finally disavowed the KKK's former Grand Wizard on Twitter.
As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke- I disavow. pic.twitter.com/OIXFKPUlz2— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016
He tried to backpedal during a Today show interview on Monday, blaming his interview comments on a "bad earpiece."
"I was sitting in a house in Florida, with a bad earpiece," he said. "I could hardly hear what he's saying. I hear various groups. I don't mind disavowing anyone. I disavowed Duke the day before at a major conference."
Rubio, for one, isn't buying it.
"I don't care how bad the earpiece is," he said during a rally in Tennessee Monday, "Ku Klux Klan comes through pretty clearly."