Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) said Thursday he had no relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, saying he had always been a "fierce opponent of anti-Semitism."
Ellison, the vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee and a Muslim, attended a private dinner in 2013 with Farrakhan, an outspoken racist and anti-Semite who espouses conspiracy theories about Jews and whites, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
CNN host Wolf Blitzer recapped the saga, pointing out Ellison said in 2016 that his relationship with Farrakhan ended long ago.
"What exactly is your relationship with Farrakhan?" Blitzer asked.
"No relationship," Ellison said. "My political opponents keep pushing this out there in order to try to smear and distract from the key issues, but there's no relationship, Wolf. I have a clear record. I have always fought for equal rights for all people. I will continue to do so. I have always denounced and been a fierce opponent of anti-Semitism, from whatever source. I'll continue to do so."
Ellison said in this political environment, people would say anything to distract from core issues like security, health care, and raising wages.
"There's folks out there who don't want to talk about those things," he said. "They want to talk about anything to distract, and so, I'm going to keep fighting the smears, and I'm going to keep talking about the issues that Americans care about every day."
Ellison wrote columns embracing Farrakhan as a "role model" in the 1980s and 1990s before distancing himself during his first run for Congress in 2006, saying he had "long since" rejected the Nation of Islam.
In 2016, when Ellison sought the chairmanship of the DNC, the Nation of Islam called him "cowardly" for repudiating Farrakhan. Farrakhan also said Ellison met him in his hotel suite as recently as the summer of 2016, saying Ellison's denouncements of him had only served to diminish Ellison.