Donald Trump sought Sunday to walk back his statements during Saturday night's Republican debate that former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for the Sept. 11 terror attack.
"I am not blaming him," Trump said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
Trump continued to imply Bush erred, however. "The CIA said there was a lot of information that something like that was going to happen," he said. The attacks killed just under 3,000 Americans.
During Saturday night's debate, Trump told former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: "The World Trade Center came down during your brother's reign, remember that."
"How did he keep us safe?" Trump said later. "I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe."
Trump holds a large lead in South Carolina. A CBS poll released Sunday put his support at 42 percent. That is more than double the 20 percent of the second-place candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., polled in third at 15 percent.
But in the wake of the debate, many pundits argued Trump risks losing support of pro-military conservative voters in South Carolina and other upcoming primary states, among whom George W. Bush remains popular.
For some GOP voters, Trump's faulting of Bush may have sounded too similar to Democratic denunciations of the former president, who faced criticism at the time for taking a lengthy vacation in the weeks prior to the attack, which occurred nine months into his presidency.
Hoping to capitalize on the those views, Rubio responded to Trump's claims Saturday by arguing former President Bill Clinton was at fault for the 9/11 attacks. Clinton failed to kill Osama bin Laden, Rubio said.
Trump on Sunday also seemed to walk back his claim that the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
"They lied," Trump said during the debate. "They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none."
On Sunday, Trump said George W. Bush "thought there were weapons of mass destruction, maybe, or maybe he didn't."
Trump insisted the invasion of Iraq was a "disaster" that continues to spread instability.
"We would have been so much better off if Bush and the rest of them went to the beach and didn't do anything," Trump said. "If you had Saddam Hussein, he was a bad guy and all of that, but he made a living off killing terrorists. Now if you want to become a terrorist you go to Iraq."
Trump spoke just hours after he fired off a series of post-midnight tweets arguing he fared well in the debate.
Saturday's debate "might have been my best performance," Trump said Sunday.