President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he would like to thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling 755 diplomats from Russia, the latest in a series of comments that seem to go easy on a country that is described by many as an adversary. The comment came during a press briefing at the president’s golf club in West Bedminster, N. J., after Trump was asked to speak publicly about the Russian imposed sanctions for the first time.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll,” replied the president, taking an oddly contrarian view to what is generally considered to be a huge loss for U.S. diplomats. “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. “So, I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”
That President Trump has seemingly made light of the expulsion, comes amid accusations that he is too chummy with Putin. Trump has also butted heads with U.S. intelligence agencies over their conclusion that Russia interfered with last year’s U.S. elections. Both Trump’s campaign and many people affiliated with it are under investigation for any role they may have played in hacking the election.
State department staffing is reportedly a tense topic of debate issue between the Trump administration and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as many key positions within the department have yet to be filled. For instance, President Trump has yet to name a diplomat to South Korea, a post—if filled—could help ease the conflict in North Korea.
On Sunday, Tillerson said that the U.S. would soon respond to Russia’s expulsion of the diplomats. But given Trump’s willingness to contradict his Secretary of State, it’s not immediately clear if this is that response.