White House press secretary Sean Spicer was widely criticized Tuesday for comments about Syrian dictator Bashar Assad that were seen as downplaying Adolf Hitler’s crimes during World War II.

Spicer quickly walked back the comments, saying he did not intend to “lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust” when he suggested during a daily briefing that Assad’s chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel territory last week made him worse at least in one respect than Hitler, who Spicer said “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

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“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Spicer told reporters, as he criticized the Russian government for its support of Assad. “Someone who is despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. You have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself, is this a country that you, and a regime that you want to align yourself with?”

In fact, Hitler’s Nazi Germany did use chemical weapons, most notably through the Holocaust, the genocidal program intended to murder Europe’s entire Jewish population. Many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were killed in gas chambers using Zyklon B and other poisons.

Sarin gas, the weapon believed to have been used by Assad’s regime, was first created and weaponized by Nazi scientists in 1938.

The White House came out with Spicer’s clarification shortly after the briefing, as the comments were roundly condemned on television and made the rounds on social media.

“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” Spicer said in the statement. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

It was Spicer’s second attempt at cleaning up the comments. Offered an opportunity later in his briefing to clarify what he meant in the initial remarks, Spicer only appeared to dig deeper. The press secretary seemingly referred to Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers” and said Hitler had not used chemical weapons in the same way that Assad had.

The Nazi leader, Spicer said, “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” Hitler’s systematic murder of Jews — including many in Germany — and other groups left more than six million people dead.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” the press secretary said. “He brought them into the Holocaust center. I understand that. But I’m saying in the way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down into innocent, into the middle of towns. So the use of it, I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”

The press secretary’s statement was quickly derided and fact-checked, including by MSNBC, which followed the press briefing with a chyron summarizing what Spicer had said and adding parenthetically that “Hitler gassed millions.” Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wrote on Twitter that she hopes Spicer “takes time to visit @HolocaustMuseum. It’s a few blocks away.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, tweeted that Spicer needed a “refresher history course on Hitler stat.” “#Icantbelievehereallysaidthat,” Cardin added.

“Never thought I would say this, but Sean Spicer should go back to talking about crowd size at the inauguration,” added Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, a dig referencing the press secretary’s rocky introduction to the White House press corps.

It not the first time that President Donald Trump’s White House has been forced to answer questions about the Holocaust. Critics in January jumped on the administration’s statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which omitted any mention of Jewish victims. At the time, Spicer defended the statement by saying it had been written in part by a Jewish staff member whose family members had survived the Holocaust. He called criticism of the Trump administration over the statement “pathetic.”

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