"The White House says no threat was intended. I believe that."
I'm not sure why you say this, Ms Saunders. But I believe you are falling into a certain logical trap regardless of why. What difference does it make if it's a "threat" ("with all due respect, Senator, what difference does it make?). That depends on what the definition of "threat" is (to coin another phrase).
I thought Woodward handled it perfectly when he said "I didn't call it a threat. People can read." He said this to Matt Lauer, who was berating him for "going public." Huh?
My take is that in the English language, which is my mother tongue (thank you Sam Ervin), the formulation used by Sperling is the way in which threats are often delivered.