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Exclusive: David Duke on Rep. Scalise controversy
07:41 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

David Duke said Saturday that Rep. Steve Scalise "may have" attended a gathering of his group in 2002

He defended the group as similar to African American or Hispanic rights groups

Duke threatened to "name names" of lawmakers who have sought his support

Washington CNN  — 

Rep. Steve Scalise may have attended a gathering of a white supremacist group, David Duke, the former Klu Klux Klan leader who founded the group said on CNN Saturday.

“I’ve got conflicting reports,” Duke told CNN’s Michael Smerconish. “One person said that he was a no-show, that he was scheduled to come — one person said that he did come. I just don’t know what the truth is.”

Duke added that “it seems that Mr. Scalise thinks he may have. That’s why he’s — he’s covering himself.”

Duke was in Russia at the time of the 2002 conference of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, considered by many civil rights groups to be a hate group. The event in question has drawn intense scrutiny after a local Louisiana political blogger uncovered comments on an online forum suggesting Scalise spoke there in 2002.

READ: Steve Scalise fallout: What you need to know

The controversy surrounding Scalise’s appearance has sparked calls for the Louisiana Republican to resign from his House Republican leadership position and created unwanted headaches for the GOP as they prepare to take over full control of Congress next week.

While he said he remains murky on the actual details of who spoke at the event thirteen years ago, Duke threatened to “name names” of lawmakers with whom he’s “had relationships” if they continue to attack Scalise.

“I would name names of any Democrat — and I know some Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives — who tried, in fact urged me, to support them,” he said.

He added while he respects the privacy of those with whom he’s had relationships, “I would call them out if they [were] hypocritical.”

Scalise himself has said while he doesn’t remember speaking to the group, he may have, as he was barnstorming his district as a state representative seeking support for a proposal. The lawmaker has distanced himself from the group’s viewpoints and apologized for speaking there, calling it a “mistake.” But conflicting reports from Duke and his advisor, Kenny Knight, who organized the event, continue to raise questions about what actually happened that day.

READ: Scalise brings back Boehner’s familiar right flank hangover

Knight has said previously Scalise didn’t in fact speak to the group, and only came to talk to a meeting of a civic association gathering before the EURO event.

Duke on Saturday insisted that even if Scalise spoke to his group, they were not supporters of one another.

“I was not his supporter, he was not my supporter. I did not contribute to him, he did not contribute to me, okay?” Duke said. “He was not a member of my organization — he was an early young representative who just got elected in Louisiana, and he was pushing a tax program, and he was coming to constituents. And again, I believe that every elected official has a responsibility to hear out people who are right wing, left wing.”

Duke also downplayed the controversy surrounding his group, comparing it to the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic-American rights group, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an African-American rights group, and noting that elected officials speak to both of those without blowback.

“But he came to a European organization — big problem,” he noted. “And don’t forget, he was an elected official. So what is America all about? Don’t we, aren’t we supposed to believe that if you’re an elected official…you’re representing all the people in your district?”

Duke said that at the time he was a very popular figure in Louisiana, forging multiple unsuccessful statewide runs and at one point contemplating a run for president. And Duke alleged that the “national media” was “racist” and may have contributed to the controversy.

“Maybe the national media, which I consider to be very racist against European Americans, I think that they have really caused the incitement of African Americans against European Americans, and I also think that they’ve also facilitated European Americans being angry against African Americans,” he said.