WASHINGTON: The White House said on Wednesday that there is "still" a threat of Russian meddling in the US elections, claiming that president Donald Trump was not referring to that issue when he responded to journalists hours earlier.
"We believe that the threat still exists, which is why we are taking steps to prevent it," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House daily briefing, Efe reported.
During a Cabinet meeting in the White House, reporters asked Trump if he believed Russia was still trying to interfere in US elections, after which the president said "no."
Sanders, however, said that the president's "no" was in response to another question.
"The president said, 'Thank you very much,' and was saying 'no' to answering further questions," Sanders said.
The spokeswoman said Trump and his administration are "working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle as they have done in the past."
Asked again whether the president believed that Russian meddling was going on, Sanders said "since there is currently not an election today, not specifically," adding that "we believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can't do it again, unlike previous administrations."
In the exchange with the press in the Cabinet room, Trump said that there has "never been a president as tough on Russia" as himself, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin "knows that better than anybody."
US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said earlier this week that Russia had attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections and that it was carrying out "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy."
Many US lawmakers have expressed concern that Russia may attempt to interfere in November's midterm elections.
On Monday, during a joint press conference with Putin following their summit in Helsinki, Trump contradicted US intelligence assessments regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election, saying he did not see any reason why Moscow would intervene.
Trump backtracked on Tuesday, however, claiming he misspoke and that "the sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.'"
The US president also spoke on Wednesday of his summit with NATO leaders in Brussels, saying "incredible progress" had been made "toward achieving greater peace, security and prosperity for America and for our allies."
"The meetings with NATO, the United Kingdom and Russia were a tremendous success," he said.