Donald Trump said late Tuesday that his controversial comments about a federal judge’s Mexican heritage have been “misconstrued,” as he defended his remarks in his most extensive statement to date on the matter in the face of a growing bipartisan backlash.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in an apparent bid to move past the controversy, issued the 700-word statement shortly before polls were set to close in the last major round of primary voting Tuesday.
Trump said he does not intend to comment further, but used the statement to elaborate on his initial claim that a federal judge’s Mexican heritage presented a conflict of interest for him in Trump University litigation. He tried to make clear his comments were limited to this judge.
“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage,” Trump said. “I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent. The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.”
He went on to cite positive reviews of Trump University, noting the case is now scheduled for trial in November.
“I do not intend to comment on this matter any further. With all of the thousands of people who have given the courses such high marks and accolades, we will win this case!” Trump said.
The statement capped what was arguably Trump’s toughest day of criticism from leading members of his own party.
House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier Tuesday called the remarks the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Ryan disavowed Trump’s comments, calling them “unacceptable.”
Trump made the comments about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, claiming the Indiana-born judge can't be impartial in lawsuits against Trump University because his parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border.
Trump’s comments were immediately denounced by a number of high-profile Republicans.
Even as his status as the party standard-bearer is set to be solidified with Tuesday’s voting, other GOP lawmakers continued to distance themselves from Trump.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is facing a tough re-election race, said Tuesday he will no longer support Trump for president.
He said he would not support presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, either, and would instead “write in General Petraeus.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.