(CNN)Programming note: Watch Don Lemon's interview with Donald Trump on CNN Tonight at 10pm ET
Facing harsh criticism for his proposal to temporarily halt Muslim immigration to the U.S., Donald Trump on Wednesday said he was acting in the Islamic community's best interests.
"I'm doing good for the Muslims," Trump told Don Lemon in an interview for "CNN Tonight." "Many Muslim friends of mine are in agreement with me. They say, 'Donald, you brought something up to the fore that is so brilliant and so fantastic.'"
Among those reaching out to thank him, the Republican front-runner said, was "one of the most important people in Middle East" — Trump didn't reveal the name — who called on Wednesday to say, "Donald, you're doing a great service."
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"I have many friends who are Muslims," Trump told Lemon. "They're phenomenal people. They are so happy at what I'm doing."
The feeling, he said, is mutual.
"I love the Middle East," Trump declared. "I love the people of the Middle East."
Trump also said his plan had been misrepresented and explained that the immigration ban may not last long.
"It could go quickly, but it's a subject that has to be discussed," he said, adding that there would be exceptions for Muslim athletes and diplomats.
Trump pinned the fierce backlash that followed his call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" on Republican establishment figures and his primary opponents.
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"The group that is not criticizing me," he said, "is the public. The public agrees with what I said. They saw those two animals last week go out and shoot people.