Donald Trump said he was being sarcastic Wednesday when he suggested that Russia might return thousands of emails deleted by Hillary Clinton from her time in the government.

Trump's remarks led Democrats to say he was on the verge of causing a national security incident, or even treason, for suggesting that Russia get involved in the U.S. election. But in an interview that aired Thursday morning, Trump dismissed the controversy.

"Of course I'm being sarcastic," Trump said. "But you have 33,000 emails deleted and the real problem is what was said on those emails from the Democratic National Committee. You take look at what was said on those emails, it's disgraceful."

Trump's team had said hours earlier that despite the Democrats' reaction to Trump's comments, Trump never invited Russia to hack into U.S. computers, and was assuming that Russia probably already has Clinton's deleted emails.

"First of all, he didn't encourage anybody to hack," Paul Manafort told Fox News host Megyn Kelly Wednesday night. "Secondly, what he said was the 33,000 illegally deleted emails are still missing and he was making a sarcastic point about the 33,000 emails."

Trump also pushed back against the suggestion that he once said Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "great leader for his country."

"No, I didn't say that," Trump said. "I said he's a better leader than Obama. Because Obama is not a leader. So he's certainly doing a better job than Obama is. And that's all."

"You have to understand, Putin, if we could get along with Russia, I think that would be a good thing, not a bad thing. We don't get along with Russia," Trump added.