Donald Trump is lashing out at accusations of racism over his recent attacks against a Hispanic federal judge, calling it "unfortunate" that his comments had been "misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage."
"I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent," Trump said in a statement Tuesday. "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."
But in an interview that aired just this week on CBS' "Face the Nation," Trump pointed to the heritage of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican parents, as a reason for Curiel's "bias."
"He is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine," Trump told "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson. "But I say he's got bias. I want to build a wall. I'm going to build a wall."
Trump, in his statement Tuesday, defended his previous comments as "fair."
"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," the billionaire said, referring to Curiel's membership in a non-profit professional organization for Latino lawyers. "It is a fair question. I hope it is not the case."
The presumptive nominee also launched into a long defense of Trump University, which he claimed had received several positive student reviews because the education venture had "provided a substantive, valuable education."
He referred in his statement to "literally thousands of positive surveys, all of which can be viewed online at www.98percentapproval.com," and the "generous" refund policy, but CBS News' Julianna Goldman and Laura Strickler reported in September that court documents said that Trump University provided refunds to 40 percent of its students. So that would mean the 98 percent approval rating Trump is claiming is not accurate.
Also, many of the people who are suing Trump University were people who asked for refunds but were told they were outside the refund window and could not get their money back.
Trump's statement comes just as he's facing an exodus of Republican support, with several prominent GOP legislators chastising him for questioning Curiel's impartiality.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, reversed course on his previous statement saying he'd support Trump -- over Twitter, he charged that the billionaire mogul's "temperament" makes him unfit to "command our military or our nuclear arsenal."
Kirk, whose Senate seat is widely viewed as one of the most vulnerable to a party switch, issued a statement further explaining that he would not back the presumptive nominee because of Trump's recent racially-charged attacks against a Hispanic federal judge.
"I have spent my life building bridges and tearing down barriers--not building walls," Kirk said Tuesday. "That's why I find Donald Trump's belief that an American-born judge of Mexican descent is incapable of fairly presiding over his case is not only dead wrong, it is un-American."
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While the Illinois Republican had hoped "the rhetoric would tone down" over the course of the primary, Kirk said he only became more uncomfortable with the direction of Trump's campaign.
"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," he said.
Kirk's statement came less than a day after Democratic challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth blasted his silence on the issue, accusing him of being "complicit" in Trump's campaign of "hate and division."
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also distanced himself from Trump's comments.
"Well, I surely disagree with Mr. Trump on that point, and you can't have a religious or ethnic test to be a judge in America," the Republican senator said on Iowa News/Talk 1540 KXEL. Every person's entitled to a person they think will be a fair judge, to give impartial justice. But if you think you don't have such a person, there are plenty of motions that you can make before the court to get a new judge or to change things. If that particular judge would disagree with you, you've got a right to appeal."
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, another prominent Republican, recently said in a statement that Trump's comments were "indefensible," but left the door open to voting for the party's nominee in the fall.