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Trump declines to assess white supremacy groups, including KKK, without first doing research

During appearances on network television Feb. 28, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeatedly declined to refuse the endorsement of David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. While Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both took aim at Trump. (Video: The Washington Post)

This post has been updated

Donald Trump was asked Sunday during an interview on CNN whether he disavows the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups. His response: He said he needed to research the groups before doing so.

Earlier this week, former KKK leader David Duke said that voting for anyone but Trump "is really treason to your heritage," although he stopped short of endorsing the Republican front-runner. On Friday, Trump said he disavowed Duke. The issue came up again during CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday morning, with host Jake Tapper repeatedly asking Trump whether he condemns the racism of Duke and other white supremacists. Trump repeatedly said he would have to research the people and groups concerned before doing so.

David Duke has a long history in politics and the white supremacy movement. Here are key moments in Duke’s life in the public eye. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

[How America’s dying white supremacist movement is seizing on Donald Trump’s appeal]

"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, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about."

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump told Tapper to send him a list of groups and he would then provide assessments of each, saying that he doesn't want to condemn a group about which he knows nothing.

"Certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong," Trump said.

Tapper then offered one group: "The Ku Klux Klan?" He further clarified: "I mean, 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," Trump said. "I don't believe I have ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him. And I just don't know anything about him."

Trump's responses quickly prompted criticism from his Republican rivals and others.

"He knows exactly who David Duke is," Sen. Marco Rubio said as he rallied with thousands at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. "He was asked this morning two times — will you repudiate and condemn the Ku Klux Klan, and he refused that, as well. We cannot be a party who nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan."

Rubio said Trump would be "unelectable" as a GOP nominee if he failed to repudiate Duke. He also claimed that Trump knew of Duke, noting that the former declined to run as a Reform Party candidate several years ago because Duke was seeking the party's nomination.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called Trump's comments "really sad" and wrote in a tweet that Trump is "better than this."

"We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent," Cruz wrote.

Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, Cruz said it is "unfortunate" that Trump declined to denounce Duke, "particularly when layered on the fact that white nationalists were doing robocalls urging people to vote for Donald Trump and telling people, 'don’t vote for the Cubans in this race,'" Cruz said.

The Texas Republican added: "In my view, racism and bigotry has no place in politics. And we should all be united in saying that the Klan is reprehensible and has no place in politics ..... That should be common ground among Republicans, among Democrats, among everyone, that bigotry that antisemitism, that racism has no role in politics."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich mentioned Trump's comments as he started a town hall in Springfield, Mass.

"Apparently he refused to disassociate himself from white supremacists," Kasich said. "Every day it's another thing. That's just horrific, right? We don't have any place for white supremacists in the United States of America. It doesn't make any sense. He really needs to make his position clear, and he ought to do it quickly."

Early Sunday afternoon, Trump tweeted a video of himself at a news conference on Friday saying: "I didn't even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? Okay, all right. I disavow. Okay?" Trump wrote in his tweet: "I disavow."

Ed O'Keefe, Katie Zezima and David Weigel contributed to this report.