The US president has again caused confusion over his stance on Russia after appearing to say he believed Moscow was no longer targeting the US.
Speaking to reporters during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Donald Trump answered “no” when asked if the US was still being targeted by Russia, a belief that would put him at odds with his intelligence chiefs.
But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said hours later that she had talked with the president and he had instead being saying “no” to taking further questions from reporters.
When asked if she was reversing what the president had said, she answered: “I’m interpreting it, not reversing it.”
It comes a day after Mr Trump backtracked on comments he made about whether he believed Russia had been responsible for alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.
The billionaire had said during Monday’s news conference with Vladimir Putin that he “didn’t see any reason” why Russia would be involved in US election meddling and that, despite his “great confidence” in his intelligence agencies, Mr Putin had given an “extremely strong and powerful” denial.
Almost as soon as the words were spoken, journalists, political commentators and politicians expressed bemusement and anger, with former CIA director John Brennan going as far as to describe the remarks as “treasonous”.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump claimed he had mis-spoke the day before and had meant to say he did not see any reason why Russian wouldn’t be responsible for interfering in the 2016 vote.
He admitted “there’s a need for some clarification”, adding that what he meant “should have been obvious – I thought it would be obvious but would like to clarify in case it wasn’t”.
He said: “In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’.”
Hitting back at claims he had taken a soft position on Moscow, Mr Trump said on Wednesday that “no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia”.
Citing US sanctions on Russia and the expulsion of alleged Russian spies from the US, he added that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “understands it, and he’s not happy about it”.
Last week, national intelligence director Dan Coats said that warning lights about overall cyber threats to the US were “blinking red”, much like “blinking red” signals warned before the 9/11 attacks.
Mr Coats said that threats were coming from China, Iran and North Korea but that Russia had been the most aggressive foreign actor.
Twelve alleged Russian intelligence officers have been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller, accused of hacking into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party in 2016.
Russia has denied any involvement.