Donald Trump stepped back from comments he made in a television interview over the weekend when he claimed to know nothing about former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, saying that he couldn't hear the questions clearly.
Trump was asked Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" whether he rejected support for his presidential campaign from the former KKK Grand Dragon and other white supremacists after Duke.
"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK?" Trump told host Jake Tapper.
In a phone-in interview with NBC’s “Today” on Monday, the Republican front-runner blamed the earpiece he was wearing, saying he could not understand what Tapper was asking him.
“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,” he told hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie.
Trump also said that he "disavowed David Duke all weekend long on Facebook and on Twitter."
Duke implicitly endorsed Trump last week, telling his radio followers that a vote for anyone but Trump was equivalent to “treason to your heritage.”
Trump, who held a rally at Radford University on Monday, did not mention the comments about Duke, or the former KKK leader's support.
Trump was asked Friday by journalists how he felt about Duke's support. He said he didn't know anything about it and curtly said: "All right, I disavow, ok?"
Rubio slammed Trump's explanation while holding a rally Monday in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I don't care how bad the earpiece is," he said. "Ku Klux Klan comes through pretty clearly."
Former presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said he believed that Trump "totally disavowed the endorsement."
"Does anybody think Donald Trump is a racist? I don't," he said. "I mean I really don't. I don't know of anything in his life that indicates that this man has racist tendencies."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, campaigning with Rubio late Monday in Atlanta, said Trump is an example of what she taught her kids not to do in kindergarten, namely "lie and make things up."
"I told my kids to do exactly what Rubio did in the last debate," she added. "When a bully hits you, you hit that bully right back."
Rubio earlier told thousands of supporters in Leesburg, Virginia: "We cannot be a party who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. 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?"
GOP rival Ted Cruz responded to Trump on Twitter, telling him, "You're better than this. We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent."
The billionaire 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."
Democrat Bernie Sanders also lashed out at his Republican rival on Twitter, writing: "America's first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hatemonger who refuses to condemn the KKK."
Hillary Clinton, who was campaigning in Memphis ahead of Super Tuesday, retweeted Sanders' tweet against Trump. She issued a call to unite the nation, asking worshippers at two churches to reject “the demagoguery, the prejudice, the paranoia.”