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Steve King says retweet of Nazi sympathizer's message was unintentional, won't delete tweet

(CNN) Rep. Steve King, the anti-immigration hardliner, said Tuesday he didn't realize he retweeted a message from a self-described Nazi sympathizer who has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.

But King told CNN he wasn't sorry for unintentionally sharing the tweet and pointedly refused to delete the message.

Asked why he wouldn't delete a message from someone who has praised Nazi Germany, King said: "Because then it'd be like I'm admitting that I did something, now I'm sorry about it. I'm not sorry. I'm human."

In an interview just off the House floor, King also espoused his own hard-line immigration views, saying that the US is a "Judeo-Christian country" and immigrants need to embrace "Americanism" and "not create enclaves in America that are the antithesis of Americanism." He said he had no opinion on whether the United States should allow more European immigrants into the United States than from Asian, African or Middle Eastern countries.

"I want to see the American civilization strengthened," King said. "That means we are a Judeo-Christian country, and we could not have succeeded without our Founding Fathers' (knowing) that."

King had drawn sharp rebukes for retweeting a message earlier this month from activist Mark Collett, former chairman of a far-right British youth party, who said on Twitter: "65% of Italians under the age of 35 now oppose mass immigration. Europe is waking up..."

King retweeted Collett's message and added a message: "Europe is waking up...Will America...in time?"

On Tuesday, King said he had never heard of Collett and claimed to know nothing about his political views. King said he only shared the message because he noticed a screenshot of the Breitbart article that was cited in Collett's tweet.

"I had never heard his name before, and I don't know why anybody would ever know his name, for that matter," King said. "I think it's really unjust for anyone to assign the beliefs of someone else because there's a message there among all of that. I mean it's the message, not the messenger."

For the first time on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan's office weighed into the controversy, saying in a statement: "The Speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate."

When he wrote the June 12 tweet, King said he was walking between meetings and was trying to just share the Breitbart article. While he was searching for the article on Twitter, he found Collett's tweet and didn't realize whose message he was sharing. He noted he later shared the Breibart article in a separate tweet without Collett's message.

"It's unjust to simply put a politically correct bridle on someone and say, 'You've got to do a background check on everybody that ever tweets something out before you can ever agree with a single sentence that they might put out,'" King said. "And by the way I didn't even know it was his message. I thought it was a Breitbart message."

King reiterated his message in an interview Tuesday night with Chris Cuomo CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," where he again refused to delete the tweet.

"It's pretty simple. I tweeted a Breitbart story, I didn't tweet a message from him," King said.

King has a history of making inflammatory comments about immigrants -- and espouses among the most extreme views on immigration of any member of the House Republican Conference.

Asked if he supported more European immigrants, rather than from Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries, King said: "I've never taken a position on that, primarily because there aren't a lot of people coming out of Europe."

King said he wanted immigrants to assimilate to American culture and not "try to reverse it."

"They can figure out who they are," King said of "enclaves" that are the "antithesis of Americanism." "The American people can also figure out who they are."

CNN's Ashley Killough, Sophie Tatum and Laurie Ure contributed to this report.
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