Trump says was being 'sarcastic' in
thanking Putin for embassy staff cuts
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[August 12, 2017]
By James Oliphant
BEDMINSTER, NJ (Reuters) - President Donald
Trump said on Friday he 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.
Asked whether he was being sarcastic, Trump told reporters:
"In order to reduce our payroll, absolutely. I think you know that,"
Trump said without explicitly criticizing the move.
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
"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."
Trump's remarks rekindled criticism of his kid-glove handling of Putin,
especially as he has not shied away from being highly critical of
members of his own party, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress and
reluctantly signed into law by Trump, ordered Washington to cut its
diplomatic and technical staff by 755 people by Sept. 1. Many of those
affected likely will be local Russian staffers.
It was also a reaction to former President Barack Obama expelling 35
Russian diplomats from the United States last December over the
intelligence agency reports.
"I was just speaking to the Secretary (of State Rex Tillerson) and we're
talking about coming up with an answer ... by September 1st we'll have a
response," Trump said.
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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after a security briefing
at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 10, 2017.
Congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating the
conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in
the 2016 election campaign by hacking and other methods to help
Trump, a Republican. They are also looking into possible collusion
between the campaign and Russian officials. Moscow has repeatedly
denied meddling in the election and Trump denies any campaign
During his campaign and since becoming president, Trump has
consistently called for better ties with Russia, declined to
criticize Putin and refused to unequivocally embrace the conclusions
of the intelligence agencies.
Trump's remarks were immediately denounced by current and former
U.S. officials who have served both Republican and Democratic
The remarks also raised some eyebrows in Europe.
“I would have to say in my experience (it is) one of the most
bizarre things I have ever heard from any government official, not
just the U.S.," Ojars Kalnins, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee at the Latvian parliament, told Reuters earlier on Friday.
"Thanking another foreign leader for firing people from their
embassy is unprecedented. It’s bizarre."
(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann in Washington and Gederts Gelzis
in Latvia; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Grant McCool and
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