While taking questions from reporters at a Cabinet meeting, Trump said, "Thank you very much, no," after Cecilia Vega, ABC News' White House correspondent, asked whether the US was still a target of Russian-led cyberattacks and election meddling. Trump appeared to directly contradict what Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has said on the matter.
During the press briefing, Sanders said Trump was saying "no" to taking more questions, not answering Vega. Sanders also said the White House believes the Russian threat of targeting US elections "still exists".
Hallie Jackson, NBC News' White House correspondent, along with other reporters, went back and forth with Sanders at least 16 times over what the president meant by his comment.
When asking for further clarification, Jackson said Trump had never before ushered reporters out by saying "no".
Sanders repeated that Trump was not answering the question posed in the Cabinet meeting, saying that Vega didn't understand his response because she had asked a follow-up question.
Jackson continued by saying this was the second time in three days that Trump or the White House has reversed course on what the president has said.
Sanders, who was in the room when Vega asked the question, said she interpreted it differently and was not reversing Trump's position. Vega said on Twitter that she thought the president was responding to her question, not ushering reporters out.
"Why should this president have any credibility to Americans in what he says if in fact 24 hours later — or in this case, three hours later — the White House comes out and says, 'Just kidding'?" Jackson said.
Sanders denied that that was what the White House was doing.
"We never said, 'Just kidding,'" she said, adding: "You can take the fact that the president has credibility because he saw that he had misspoken, and he wanted to clarify that yesterday, which he did. So when he sees that he has misspoken, he comes out and he says that."
Then Sanders tried to move on to another reporter, Jordan Fabian of The Hill, but Fabian threw it back to Jackson so she could ask her next question, over Sanders' protests.
Jackson asked Sanders to name a time when Trump has publicly called out Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I think by stating the fact that the president said that Russia interfered with our election, that's a pretty bold call-out of another world leader," Sanders said.
On Monday, Trump sent shockwaves through the US when during a joint press conference with Putin he brushed aside the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
"My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me, some others — they said they think it's Russia," Trump said. "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."
That day, Coats issued a statement strongly rebuking the president: "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective evidence in support of our national security."
On Tuesday, Trump attempted to walk back his comments by claiming he meant to say he didn't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.
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