Donald Trump was challenged to release the recording of an off-the-record briefing with a leading American newspaper in which he reportedly said his strident views on immigration had been made purely for political reasons.
During the 11th Republican debate, in which he was repeatedly attacked by rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Mr Trump was pushed to release the recording from a conversation with the editorial board of the New York Times. Earlier this week, BuzzFeed said that at the meeting he said he was far more flexible on the immigration issue than many believed.
On a night in which Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s name was trending on Twitter for her relentless interrogation of Mr Trump, a man who had made controversial comments about her during the very first debate last year, the tycoon insisted that he was indeed tough on the immigration issue.
“Look, I am going to build a wall,” he said, referring to his much stated plan to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border. “It’s going to happen. But there is give and take in government.”
Asked directly whether he would release the recording, he said: “I did have a meeting with the New York Times editorial board. I think being off the record is very important. I will honour it.”
He added: “But I will say that in immigration as well as with anything else, there has been to be tug and pull. You have to be able to have some flexibility. I may have said something like that with the New York Times. But I am not going to release something off the record.”
Mr Cruz said: “You could resolve this issue very easily by releasing the tapes. If you went to Manhattan and said this, the voters have a right to know.”
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
The debate in Michigan, which also featured Ohio Governor John Kasich, a man who sought to portray him a the “grown up” on a night of squabbling - at one point Mr Trump made a veiled claim about the size of his genitals - came after the tycoon had faced a barrage of attacks from Republicans opposed to him becoming the president.
The 2012 Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, urged people to vote tactically to prevent Mr Trump securing enough delegates to win the nomination.
Without naming any of the other candidates, or suggesting that he might throw his hand into the race, he claimed there would be a dark future if the tycoon was elected.
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phoney, a fraud,” Mr Romney said. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Asked about Mr Romney’s comments, Mr Trump said: “We have a failed candidate. He should have beaten President Obama easily. He was a failed candidate and he was a big embarrassment to the Republican party.”
The debate came two days after Super Tuesday, when Mr Trump won seven out of eleven states. Mr Cruz won three, while Mr Rubio secured just one.