(CN) — Speaking during a photo op at the end of a Cabinet meeting Wednesday President Donald Trump denied Russia is still targeting elections in the United States, a claim sharply at odds with recent warnings from his top intelligence chief.
A reporter had asked Trump if Russia was still targeting the U.S. and answered “no” without elaborating.
His response followed words of alarm last week from National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, who said warning lights about overall cyberthreats to the U.S. were “blinking red” — much as “blinking red” signals before the 9/11 terror attacks.
Later, during a daily briefing with reporters, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued Trump didn’t contradict Coats at all, but rather was saying “no” to answering more questions. This left White House reporters incredulous, and they repeatedly returned to the subject, pressing Sanders on her explanation.
In the aftermath of his Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump asserted Wednesday that no other American president has been as “tough” on Russia as he has been.
He cited U.S. sanctions on Russia and the expulsion of alleged Russian spies from the U.S., telling reporters that Putin “understands it, and he’s not happy about it.”
Trump’s comments came a day after he walked back his public questioning of U.S. intelligence findings of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Those previous comments, delivered alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit press conference Monday, had prompted blistering, widespread criticism.
Trump sought to stem the crisis Tuesday by explaining he misspoke at the podium in Helsinki.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia'” instead of “why it would,” Trump said Tuesday of the comments he following his meeting with Putin.