President Donald J. Trump thanked the Russian authorities on Thursday for expelling hundreds of American diplomats from the country, a remarkable statement for a person who is at the center of allegations of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
“I want to thank him [Russian President Putin] because we’re trying to cut down our payroll 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,” Mr. Trump said, according to a White House pool report.
In July, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that imposes broad sanctions on Russia. Following the vote, Moscow called on Washington to reduce the number of American diplomats in the country to 455 by September 1. The Russian Foreign Ministry also suspended two diplomatic properties belonging to the U.S. mission.
Mr. Trump said there was no real reason for the U.S. diplomats to go back.
“I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money,” he stated.
The diplomats, who were ordered to leave Russia, were not actually fired by the U.S. Department of State and still remain its employees.
Update (7/12/17 11:00am): Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he was being sarcastic when he expressed gratitude to Moscow.
“In order to reduce our payroll, absolutely. I think you know that,” Trump said when asked about his previous comment.