A White House official has denied that the president thinks Russia is no longer a threat to the US, hours after he appeared to say Moscow was not.
During a cabinet meeting, a reporter asked if Russia was still targeting the US, to which President Donald Trump answered: “Thank you very much, no”.
Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump was saying “no” to answering any more questions.
It comes amid a flurry of criticism over his recent comments about Russia.
“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,” Mrs Sanders said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
Hours earlier, ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked the president whether Russia would still target American elections.
After he shook his head and replied, “thank you very much, no”, she again asked: “No? You don’t believe that to be the case?”
He appeared to again respond with a “no”.
But Mrs Sanders said later on Wednesday that Mr Trump was responding “no” to further questions from reporters.
“We wouldn’t actually spend as much time and effort as we are if we didn’t believe that [Russia is] still looking at us,” Mrs Sanders said.
Later, Ms Vega tweeted that the president had been looking directly at her when he answered.
NBC News’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson responded to Mrs Sander’s explanation on Wednesday on Twitter, saying she had “never heard the president say ‘no’ in order to get us to stop”.
The apparent response would put him at odds with US intelligence on claims of Russian interference in US elections for the second time since he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.
US intelligence chief Dan Coats said on Monday that Russia was involved in “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”.
He told a congressional committee in February he had already seen evidence that Russia was targeting the upcoming mid-term elections in November.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he misspoke during Monday’s summit when he appeared to side with Mr Putin over claims of Kremlin meddling in US elections.
Despite the controversy, Republican voters seem to be sticking by Mr Trump.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump lashed out at “haters” who condemned his meeting with Russia’s president, saying his critics were suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found that despite a firestorm of media criticism, Mr Trump’s Finland summit had no real impact on his overall approval ratings.
In the survey, 42% of all registered voters approved of his job performance, which is consistent with averages thus far.
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Some 71% of Republicans polled approved of his response to Russia, while only 14% of Democrats were in favour.
US lawmakers are calling for a court demand to be issued for the notes of the US translator who accompanied Mr Trump to his two-hour meeting with Mr Putin.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to testify before the Senate next week about the summit.
Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, tried on Tuesday to stage a symbolic vote to support the findings of Russian interference, but was blocked by Republicans.
Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, an Arizona Republican and a Delaware Democrat, are reportedly working on a nonbinding resolution to endorse the intelligence committee’s findings.
But Texas Republican John Cornyn said the Senate should focus on “additional sanctions instead of just some messaging exercise”.
What’s the reaction?
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, called the Helsinki news conference “saddening and disappointing”.
Even one of Mr Trump’s most loyal Republican supporters, Newt Gingrich, said the comments were the “most serious mistake of his presidency”.
Yet the president’s support held firm among the Republican rank-and-file, especially from members of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Representative Andy Harris, a member of the Caucus, said: “I disregard and discount anything that involves the mainstream media press.”
What exactly did Trump say?
During a news conference after Monday’s summit, Mr Trump was asked about alleged Russian meddling in the US election.
According to a transcript posted by the White House, he said: “My people came to me… they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he had reviewed the transcript and realised he needed to clarify.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”
Mr Trump said that the interference had had no impact on the election, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.
However, he did not respond when reporters asked him if he would condemn Mr Putin.
White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat