Donald Trump points a finger at a rally on Feb....

Donald Trump points a finger at a rally on Feb. 26, 2016, in Oklahoma City. Credit: AP / Sue Ogrocki

Billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump came under fire Sunday for failing to condemn former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacists who have expressed support for his 2016 presidential bid.

“I know nothing about David Duke,” Trump said on CNN’s “State of the Union” television show Sunday morning. “I know nothing about white supremacists.” Trump later Sunday afternoon tweeted, “As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke — I disavow.”

Duke voiced backing for Trump on his radio program recently, and praised him for “taking on the Jewish establishment,” although he stopped short of endorsing the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. He also said that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”

Trump’s top Republican competitors jumped on the CNN remarks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio said at a Virginia rally that “we cannot be a party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.”

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas posted on Twitter: “Really sad. @realDonaldTrump you’re better than this. We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent.”

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said in a statement that “Donald Trump’s refusal to denounce and disavow support from KKK supporter David Duke and white supremacist organizations is indefensible and disgraceful. Trump told Jake Tapper he doesn’t know who David Duke is or what white supremacist organizations stand for. If Trump’s statement is true, then he is genuinely dumb. If he is lying, that is shameful. In either case, he should not be running to lead the United States.”

“As a Catholic I am particularly disgusted because of the KKK’s long history and record of vicious anti-Catholicism,” King said in his statement. “And as someone who grew up in Queens, I can say that — unlike Trump — real tough guys aren’t afraid to take on the KKK.”

A young girl looks up as Donald Trump greets supporters...

A young girl looks up as Donald Trump greets supporters on Feb. 27, 2016, after a rally in Millington, Tenn. Credit: AFP-Getty Images / Michael B. Thomas

The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday called on Trump to distance himself from Duke and other white nationalists, and to publicly condemn their racism.

Asked to do that Sunday on CNN, Trump said he was “pretty sure” he’s never met Duke, a former state representative in Louisiana.

“You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about,” he added. “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.”

Asked on Friday about Duke’s comments, Trump told reporters in Texas, “I didn’t know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? I disavow. OK?”

Trump was also forced on Sunday to defend his retweet of a quote from Mussolini.

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep,” Trump retweeted, without attributing the line to the dictator who allied with Nazi Germany in World War II. On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Trump said the line was “a very interesting quote,” adding, “what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else?”

The website Gawker took credit for luring Trump into retweeting the quote, saying it created a Twitter account in December specifically for the purpose of fooling the candidate into doing so.

Trump held a substantial lead last week in the southern region where Republican voters have their say in primaries on Tuesday, known as Super Tuesday. An online Bloomberg Politics poll released Thursday showed Trump backed by 37 percent of likely Republican presidential primary voters in the seven states surveyed, while Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas were tied at 20 percent each.

With Newsday staff reports

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