Trump said: “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.” Trump said “there’s no real reason for them to go back” and “we’re going to save a lot of money,” in response to Putin’s Cold War-style move, differing from the reactions of other presidents in similar circumstances in the past.
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.
It was also a tit-for-tat reaction to former President Barack Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats from the United States last December over the intelligence agency reports.
Intended to be flippant or not, Trump’s remarks on Thursday were immediately denounced by current and former U.S. officials who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official under Republican President George W. Bush, called Trump’s comments “grotesque.”
“If he was joking, he should know better,” said Burns, now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “If he wasn’t, it’s unprecedented. A president has never defended the expulsion of our diplomats.”