The White House today criticized Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump after he initially failed to clearly distance himself from controversial support by a former leader of the Knight s of the Ku Klux Klan.
Over the weekend, Trump declined to disavow the support of former grand wizard David Duke, insisting he needed "to look at the group" first, despite being reminded of the former Louisiana lawmaker’s long association with the KKK.
"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," Trump told CNN Sunday morning, drawing a sharp rebuke from the White House today.
“Look, it'll be up to Mr. Trump to decide how he wants to run his campaign, what he wants to say in terms of the kind of support that he's recruiting to his campaign,” White House Press secretary Josh Earnest told ABC News during today’s daily press briefing.
“It'll be up to Republican voters across the country to decide whether or not they're comfortable with those tactics.”
"Mr. Trump says that there's more he needs to learn about Mr. Duke before he can render an opinion, but I think we've, we now know all we need to know about Mr. Trump to render our own personal opinion about his candidacy."
After a swift wave of criticism spread throughout the media and reverberated across the campaign trail, the billionaire showman ultimately clarified his position in a tweet.
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
A disqualifying & disgusting response by @realDonaldTrump to the KKK. His coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 29, 2016
Despite regularly condemning Trump's inflammatory rhetoric throughout the campaign, Earnest declined to reveal whether it is the White House or President Obama’s view that Trump is racist.
"People are going to have to decide for themselves, you know, sort of take their own measure of Mr. Trump, and his rhetoric, and the kinds of values that he champions on the stump,” Earnest said.
“They'll have to evaluate who his supporters are the extent that he is coordinating with his supporters. But that'll be up to the American people to decide.”
ABC News' Alex Mallin contributed to this report