WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump, who said last week that a Mexican-American judge overseeing the case on Trump University was biased against him, said Tuesday that his remarks had been misconstrued and that he does not think the judge's ethnicity creates a conflict of interest.
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"I do not feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial," Trump said in a statement in which he continued to raise questions about his treatment in the case.
Trump last week suggested that Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, was not handling the case fairly because of Trump's immigration plans that include deporting illegal aliens and building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
Trump said in his statement that he has many friends of Hispanic and Mexican descent and that he thinks his words have been twisted.
"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," Trump said. "All judges should be held to that standard."
Trump, who did not apologize for the remarks, continued to express doubts about Curiel, noting that he was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama.
"Due to what I believe are unfair and mistaken rulings in this case and the judge's reported associations with certain professional organizations, questions were raised regarding the Obama appointed judge's impartiality," Trump said. "It is a fair question. I hope it is not the case.
Heeding calls from Republican leaders to focus on issues that matter to Americans, Trump said that he remained focused on bringing jobs back to the country. He also insisted that he would win the case on the defunct school.
"While this lawsuit should have been dismissed, it is now scheduled for trial in November," Trump said. "I do not intend to comment on this matter any further."
In an interview last week, Trump said it was clear that he considered Curiel's heritage an issue: "I'm building the wall; I'm building the wall. I have a Mexican judge. He's of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things."
GOP objections, support
Leading Republicans denounced Trump's earlier comments, though many were standing by their endorsements of their party's presidential candidate.
"I regret those comments he made. Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said at a morning news conference where his attempts to focus on a new House GOP poverty-fighting agenda were overwhelmed by questions about Trump. "I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable.
"But at the end of the day, this is about ideas. This is about moving our agenda forward." Ryan added. "Do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not."
One GOP senator who had previously indicated support for Trump withdrew his backing.
"While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party," Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who faces a re-election contest in November, said in a statement.
"I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world," Kirk said.
Kirk was the first leading Republican to publicly disavow earlier support for Trump. Most others, including Ryan, reaffirmed their plans to support him.
Others voiced their disapproval but made no signs of withdrawing support.
"My advice to our nominee would be to start talking about the issues the American people care about and to start doing it now," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "In addition to that, it's time to quit attacking various people that you competed with, or various minority groups in the country, and get on message."
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican senator, called Trump's comments on the judge "racially toxic," but said, "He needs to get on to the general election, and we need to win."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who withdrew from the GOP presidential campaign last year and has not supported Trump, said many Republicans were feeling the blowback from the presumptive nominee's statements. "He's created a problem for himself and everybody else, and if he could show some ability to adjust, that would probably solidify his support and help him down the road," Graham said.
"What he is doing regarding this judge, as I said, is un-American, it's outrageous, I think," Graham said. "The judge's family, mom and dad were born in Mexico. He is the epitome of the American dream.
"As far as I can tell, the judge has done nothing inappropriate legally," Graham added. "There is a reason the lawyers haven't asked the judge to step down because his parents were born in Mexico -- because if you did that, not only would you lose the motion, you could be sanctioned by the court and disbarred."
The American College of Trial Lawyers issued a statement opposing political attacks on judges, saying that such comments are a direct threat to judicial independence.
The statement was made by Michael Smith, president of the organization, which has 5,900 members.
"Judicial independence is not established for the benefit of judges, but for all of us," he said. "It is the citizens who are the beneficiaries of fair and impartial administration of justice consistent with the Rule of Law. Conversely, it is the citizens who suffer when judicial independence is compromised."
Separately, Mexico's foreign minister, speaking Monday at a conference of Jewish-Americans, compared "the stench" of anti-Mexican "bigotry" this campaign season to international anti-Semitism.
"Today in the 21st century, here in the United States, a climate of intolerance is sending a similar message: Mexicans go home," Claudia Ruiz Massieu said in a speech to the American Jewish Committee's annual conference in Washington. "Separate those who are different, blame the minorities, demonize the stranger.
"Well, let me tell you who those strangers are," Ruiz Massieu said of Mexican-Americans. "No different from American Jews from all walks of life."
While she did not mention Trump, Ruiz Massieu appeared to be directing her remarks at the presidential candidate.
"To the dismay of those who prey on disinformation and fear for political gain," she said, "the Mexican people are and have always been a positive presence and force for good in the United States."
Information for this article was contributed by Alan Rappeport and David M. Herszenhorn of The New York Times; by Erica Werner, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram and Julie Bykowicz of The Associated Press; and by Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post.
A Section on 06/08/2016
Print Headline: Trump: Taken wrong about judge