NEW YORK - Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday backtracked on his comment that President Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, blasting the media for seriously reporting what he suggested was a sarcastic comment.

In a tweet, the Trump said, "Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and (Hillary)  Clinton) 'the founder' of ISIS, & MVP (Most Valuable Player)." He added: "THEY DON'T GET SARCASM?"

As recently as Thursday, however, Trump's sarcasm was not exactly readily apparent. In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, the billionaire businessman was asked about his comments and whether he actually meant that Obama "created the vacuum, he lost the peace," which created the conditions in which the Islamic State could emerge. "No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS," Trump told Hewitt. "I do."

In a follow-up tweet Friday morning that may have also been related to the recent controversy, Trump hit media personalities who were "working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out." "They can't!" he added.

Trump seemed to revel in the uncertainty his tweet created, boasting nearly 90 minutes later of pundits’ inability to figure him out. “I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can't!” Trump declared.

He then appeared to expound on his comment, echoing the message his surrogates and adviser conveyed on the morning talk shows and blaming the media for being dishonest. “ISIS gained tremendous strength during Hillary Clinton's term as Secretary of State. When will the dishonest media report the facts!” he tweeted.

 Hillary Clinton on Friday released her tax return for last year and criticized her opponent Donald Trump for failing to honour this tradition among American politicians running for president.

Clinton and her husband Bill, the former president, reported $10.6 million in income for 2015. They paid $3.6 million in federal income tax, according to the document, which was posted on the Democratic presidential candidate's web page.

Over the course of their careers the Clintons have published all of their tax returns since 1977. Democrats repeatedly point to this as evidence of transparency on the part of the power couple.

Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine also released his returns for the past 10 years on Friday.

 

The Republican presidential nominee’s reversal and subsequent clarification comes after doubling down, if not tripling down, on his “founder” claim Thursday. It also comes ahead of Trump’s campaign and Republican Party officials in Orlando later Friday, as dozens of prominent members press the Republican National Committee to dump Trump and redirect its funds down ballot to save Republican majorities in Congress.

Trump initially made the inflammatory comment during a Wednesday evening rally in Sunrise, Florida. “ISIS is honouring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS,” Trump said.

“He is the founder of ISIS, OK? He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”

But he didn’t stop there. The billionaire businessman escalated his incendiary rhetoric multiple times on Thursday, including during a speech to the National Association of Home Builders in Miami.

“Our government isn’t giving us good protection. Our government has unleashed ISIS,” he said. “I call President Obama and Hillary Clinton the founders of ISIS. They’re the founders. In fact, I think we’ll give Hillary Clinton the - you know, if you’re on a sports team, most valuable player, MVP, you get the MVP award - ISIS will hand her the most valuable player award. Her only competition is Barack Obama.”

Trump’s “founder” comment is just the latest in a series of seemingly never-ending controversies that have erupted since he officially claimed the Republican nomination in Cleveland last month. The list includes a verbal battle with the Pakistani-American family and more recently a provocative remark about “Second Amendment people” stopping Hillary Clinton from appointing liberal Supreme Court Justices.

His comments in Miami followed telephone interviews with CNBC-TV and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday morning. Trump told “Squawk Box” programme that Obama and Clinton deserve the Islamic State’s most valuable player award and slammed shut the opening Hewitt gave him to clarify his remarks.“I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum. He lost the peace,” Hewitt told Trump, to which Trump responded: “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a top Trump surrogate, expressed frustration with Trump’s “imprecise language” and “shorthand” speaking style.“He sometimes uses three words when he needs 10,” Gingrich told Fox News, adding that had Trump, for example, explained that Obama and Clinton’s decision to pull out of Iraq created the vacuum that allowed the emergence of the Islamic State, he’d be “100 percent accurate.”

“When you instead comprise them into ‘Obama created ISIS’ - I know what Trump has in his mind, but that’s not what people hear,” he said. “He has got to learn to use language that has been thought through and that is clear to everybody and to stick to that language because otherwise the mainstream media is gonna take every possible excuse to pile on him.”

Congressman Seth Moulton, a Clinton supporter and Iraq War veteran, on Friday cast Trump as a clueless candidate with a hazardous temperament.

“I mean, what happens when he presses the nuclear button and then the next day says, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I was just being sarcastic’? It’s ridiculous that we’re even talking about someone like this being our commander in chief, and it’s dangerous for our troops,” he told CNN’s “New Day” programme on Friday.

AFP adds: More than 70 influential Republicans have signed a letter urging the party to stop spending money on Donald Trump's presidential campaign and direct it instead to November's congressional races, a news report said on Friday.

"We believe that Donald Trump's divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide," read a draft text of the letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, which was obtained by the Politico newspaper.

It called for an "immediate shift" of party funding to Senate and House races, to aid down-ballot Republicans whose own election prospects have been harmed by Trump's unpopularity.

"This should not be a difficult decision, as Donald Trump's chances of being elected president are evaporating by the day," the letter said.

The letter cited various actions by Trump that the signers said have "alienated millions of voters of all parties."

"Those recent outrages have built on his campaign of anger and exclusion, during which he has mocked and offended millions of voters, including the disabled, women, Muslims, immigrants, and minorities," the letter said, according to Politico.

"He also has shown dangerous authoritarian tendencies, including threats to ban an entire religion from entering the country, order the military to break the law by torturing prisoners, kill the families of suspected terrorists, track law-abiding Muslim citizens in databases, and use executive orders to implement other illegal and unconstitutional measures."

So far, the letter has been signed by a number of key former party staff members and officials. Politico reported that it began circulating this week and is expected to be sent to Priebus next week.

Meanwhile, Politico reported in a separate article that a meeting is planned Friday between Trump advisors and Republican Party officials at the request of the nominee's campaign, in a possible sign that Trump is seeking help in rescuing his foundering campaign.

"They want to patch up a rift that just keeps unfolding," a source told Politico, speaking about Friday's sit-down, which is to be held in Orlando.

"They finally realize they need the RNC (Republican National Committee) for their campaign because, let's face it, there is no campaign," the source said.