Donald Trump has executed yet another implausible backflip over Russia, this time claiming to be "very concerned" the nation will meddle in the upcoming election — in favour of the Democrats.
The US President backed up his eyebrow-raising statement by insisting "no President has been tougher on Russia than me" and "they definitely don't want Trump!"
But the public was not entirely convinced after his submissive performance at his summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, a week ago.
That was followed by seven days of non-stop flip-flopping over whether he believed Russia had meddled in the 2016 US elections, after his intelligence agencies confirmed it.
Mr Trump has repeatedly spoken of the Russian president in glowing terms, congratulating him for his election victory against the advice of senior White House officials.
He has previously boasted that Mr Putin thought he was a "genius" and said "getting along with Russia is a good thing." He tweeted before the summit that, "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity."
On Tuesday, he appeared to backtrack on that, claiming he was the tough one on Russia, as a firestorm raged over his latest furious Twitter rant, aimed at Iran.
He has been facing mounting pressure to act since the US Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials and charged them with hacking and stealing Democratic emails.
Mr Putin said at the summit he would allow the US to interrogate the officials, provided Russia could do the same in America, something Mr Trump called an "interesting idea", to the great concern of senior US security advisers. He eventually vetoed it.
The Democrats were today for the first time the favourites to retake control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections on November 6.
"For most of this election cycle the generic ballot has shown a consistent Democratic lead that suggests a very competitive battle for the majority," wrote Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
"A high number of open seats — the highest number of any post-war election save 1992 — give Democrats many more targets than the GOP."
The President caused consternation last Monday when he indicated he trusted Mr Putin's denial of interfering in the US presidential elections over the conclusions of his own intelligence community.
He also failed to hold his counterpart accountable for annexing Crimea, bringing down MH17 in eastern Ukraine and the Novichok poisoning deaths in the UK.
He later backflipped, insisting he had meant to say, "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia," rather than, "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia."
The President somewhat diluted the effect by adding: "I accept our intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there."
He appeared to misspeak again when asked by a White House reporter if Russia was still targeting the US and its election system, replying: "Thank you very much, no."
Press secretary Sarah Sanders later explained that the President was saying "no", he was not taking any questions, not that he felt Russia was no longer targeting US elections.
Mr Trump then told CBS he held Mr Putin personally responsible for Moscow's meddling in the 2016 US elections. "Certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes," said the former reality star.
He said he had told Mr Putin the US would not tolerate any future interference in its elections. "I let him know we can't have this," said Mr Trump. "We're not going to have it and that's the way it's going to be."
Now his rhetoric has become even stronger. Whether he backs it up with action against Russia remains to be seen.