Wednesday news: July 18, 2018

President Trump backpedals on Russia remarks » President Trump on Tuesday walked back remarks he made a day earlier—after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday the president acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials clearly believe Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election but he nevertheless appeared to accept Putin’s denials.

TRUMP: I have President Putin – he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be. 

But on Tuesday Trump said he misspoke.

TRUMP: I said the word would instead of wouldn’t, and the sentence should have been—and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video—the sentence should have been I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. 

The president said he has complete confidence in the U.S. intelligence community … and he accepts its conclusion “that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.” But he added—quote—“It could be other people also.”

The president’s effort to clarify his earlier remarks came amid mounting bipartisan criticism in Washington. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday morning there’s no question that Russia interfered in the last presidential election, and he said: 

RYAN: We have already put in place sanctions. If the Foreign Affairs Committee or the Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee think that there are other sanctions that we have not yet placed on Russia, I am more than happy to consider those. 

Obama delivers veiled shot at Trump in Johannesburg speech » Meantime, former President Barack Obama seemingly took a veiled shot at President Trump on Tuesday.

In his highest profile speech since leaving office, President Obama spoke at a ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.  

Without mentioning Trump by name, the former president said the free press and other core American values were under threat. He also denounced what he called “strongman politics.”

OBAMA: Politicians have always lied. But it used to be that if you caught ‘em lying, they’d be like, aw man. Now they just keep on lying.

This was Obama’s first trip to Africa since leaving office in 2017. Earlier this week, he stopped in Kenya, where he visited the rural birthplace of his late father.

Four states sue over tax law provision » Four states are suing Washington over a provision in the the GOP tax law enacted earlier this year.

The tax law caps a deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT, at $10,000. That deduction was especially popular in high-tax states, where many homeowners will see big increases in their federal tax bill.

The states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland are suing the IRS and the Treasury Department, demanding the government lift the cap. They say the tax law unfairly singles out blue states and interferes with their constitutional taxing authority.

Fed chief testifies » Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testified on Tuesday that the economy and the labor market are both strong. Powell told lawmakers that the Fed expects the job market to remain healthy and inflation to stay around two percent over the next several years but, he said, it’s a balancing act.

POWELL: We’re aware that, on the one hand, raising interest rates too slowly could lead to high inflation or financial market excesses. On the other hand, if we raise rates too rapidly, the economy could weaken and inflation could run persistently below our objective. 

With that in mind, Powell said the Fed plans to continue raising rates gradually.

The Fed chairman did not directly answer questions about the impact of tariffs and trade wars on the U.S. economy. But he did say Fed officials are hearing reports of companies holding off on capital spending due to uncertainty over trade.

NATO denies strategy shift in Afghanistan » More bloodshed in Afghanistan. An ISIS suicide bomber killed 20 people in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday  just hours after the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in Arghistan district Monday night. That attack killed nine police officers and wounded several others. A police spokesman said 25 Taliban fighters also died in the ensuing battle that left 15 others wounded.

Meantime, U.S. military officials are rejecting reports that the United States will negotiate directly with the Taliban. WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen reports.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, said this week that the U.S. stood ready to talk to the Taliban. But he later said his comments had been taken out of context.

The Taliban has repeatedly rejected direct talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, asking instead to talk with U.S. negotiators.

But Nicholson clarified the Pentagon’s stance, stating that “The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the U.S. would participate in peace talks but he added that “peace must be decided by the Afghans and settled among them.”

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan on Sunday said nearly 17-hundred civilians died from fighting in the first six months of this year.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen.

Hawaii lava bomb » The U.S. Coast Guard in Hawaii says boats will have to keep their distance from the erupting Kilauea volcano from now on. Boats must maintain a distance of at least 1,000 feet from where the lava meets the ocean on the Big Island.

The Coast Guard announced the new requirement one day after a chunk of lava, known as a “lava bomb,” flew through the air and crashed through the roof of a tour boat, injuring 23 people.

AUDIO: Lava bomb sound

The lava bomb also showered the boat’s deck with smaller molten rocks. One passenger on a nearby boat said the damage was hard to miss.

AUDIO: We seen parts of the lava on the vessel, and there’s a few big chunks that was on the roof, and we could see chunks laying all over the side of the boat and on the floor of the boat.

That sound courtesy of Tropical Visions. Most of the injuries were not serious, mainly scrapes and burns. But first responders transported one woman to a hospital in Honolulu with a broken thigh bone.

I’m Kent Covington. Straight ahead: more on the developing trade war with China. And WORLD founder Joel Belz on the many ways we separate families. This is The World and Everything in It.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) President Donald Trump waits for members of the media get set up before speaking in the Cabinet room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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