WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was being “sarcastic” when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for saving the United States money by ordering cuts in U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia, NBC News reported, citing the White House spokeswoman.
Nearly 24 hours after Trump made the remarks, the @NBCPolitics Twitter account posted that spokeswoman “Sarah Huckabee Sanders says President Trump ‘was being sarcastic’ when he thanked Putin for expelling diplomats from Moscow” as the explanation for Trump’s unusual remarks.
Breaking nearly two weeks of silence on Putin’s July 30 order cutting U.S. embassy and consulate staff by nearly two thirds, Trump said on Thursday:
“I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” adding “there’s no real reason for them to go back.”
The remarks were likely to rekindle criticism of Trump’s kid-glove handling of Putin and they differed from the reactions of other presidents in similar circumstances in the past.
It also clashed with a State Department official having called Moscow’s order “a regrettable and uncalled-for act”.
Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress and reluctantly signed into law by Trump, ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 embassy and consulate staff by September. Many of those affected likely will be local Russian staffers.
Reporting by Tim Ahmann and Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool