Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam said he had “overreacted” when he apologised for appearing in a racist photo in his 1984 university yearbook.
In his first TV interview since the image surfaced, Mr Northam said he later took a “step back” and determined it was not him in the photo.
Plans have meanwhile stalled to impeach Virginia’s Lt Gov Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexual assault.
The state capitol has been plunged into turmoil by the twin scandals.
During the CBS interview aired in full on Monday, Mr Northam was grilled over his college yearbook photo, which shows two people – one wearing blackface makeup and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.
Mr Northam was asked why he initially apologised for the photo before backtracking and denying he was either in the picture.
“When you’re in a state of shock like I was, we don’t always think as clearly as we should,” Mr Northam said.
“I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, ‘This is not me in the picture.'”
Asked whether he would resign, Mr Northam said: “I’m not going anywhere.”
The governor’s damage-limitation efforts risked making matters worse when he told the interviewer that 400 years has passed since the “first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores”.
Presenter Gayle King, who is African American, said: “Also known as slavery.”
The number three in Virginia’s government, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, is also in hot water after admitting to wearing blackface to a university party in 1980.