UPDATE: White House press secretary says Russian threat is ongoing, denied Trump said otherwise
The White House says the threat of Russian meddling is ongoing, and disputes that U.S. President Donald Trump said otherwise.
Earlier Wednesday, as Trump spoke to reporters during a cabinet meeting, the president appeared to insist that Russia was no longer targeting the U.S. — contradicting intelligence agencies’ assessments that Moscow was still interfering in American elections.
When asked if Russia is still targeting the U.S., Trump replied “No.”
“We are doing very well. And we are doing very well, probably as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there’s been no president ever, as tough as I have been on Russia,” Trump said.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained later that Trump was saying “No” to taking reporters’ questions, not to the question itself.
“The president … was saying ‘No’ to answering questions,” Sanders said. “The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past.”
WATCH: Trump clarified comments from summit with Putin twice White House says
The issue came one day after the president backtracked on comments made following his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday. Following the meeting in Helsinki, Trump said he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
WATCH: Is Russia still targeting U.S.? Trump answers ‘no’
He clarified his comments at the White House on Tuesday, saying he accidentally said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t.” Trump also said that he has “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies.”
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian election interference efforts are continuing and now target the upcoming congressional elections in November.
Following Trump’s comments on Wednesday afternoon, and before the White House’s statement, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said there was a “big discrepancy” between the president’s statement and U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ assessments of Russia.
“It’s imperative we get to the bottom of what is going on so we can be prepared to protect ourselves in advance of the 2018 elections,” Graham tweeted. My personal view: the Russians are at again.”
Coats said in a statement on Monday: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
After the press conference, Graham said he was “reassured unequivocally” by the White House.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the president to “walk this back too.”
Later in the day, Trump confirmed that he held President Putin responsible for election meddling in an interview on CBS.
“Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes,” Trump told CBS News
WATCH: Trump says he holds Putin responsible for election meddling after days of confusion
*with files from Rebecca Joseph
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