President Donald Trump deadpanned that he is “very thankful” for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to kick out hundreds of US diplomatic staffers from Russia. Trump’s quip that the US would “save a lot of money” wasn’t met with much laughter, though.
“I want to thank [Putin], because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey on Thursday, “and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.”
“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” Trump continued. “I greatly appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”
Trump had been asked to respond to Putin’s sign-off on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s July 28 anouncement that Washington, DC must reduce the number of its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, down from about 1,200. That move was in retaliation for the latest US sanctions that were devised as a punishment for alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Trump reluctantly signed them into law late last month.
Reuters reported that the Russian order to downsize the US diplomatic staff was softened in part, as it allowed the US to choose which individual members to cut, many of whom are Russian citizens.
The US State Department responded to Moscow’s move last month, saying that it was an “uncalled-for act.”
Trump’s line on Thursday stated quite the opposite, but the tone suggested sarcasm, which is not uncharacteristic of the president.
On Twitter, however, his comments were widely taken literally.