The White House on Friday insisted that President Trump wasn't actually being serious when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of American diplomats from Russia. "He was being sarcastic," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Trump extended his gratitude to Putin when pressed by reporters Thursday for a statement on Putin's latest move, a response to U.S. sanctions. "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," Trump said, noting this will "save a lot of money." Trump also said that there is "no real reason" for the 755 expelled American diplomats "to go back."
Trump's alleged sarcasm didn't go over well in Washington, especially in the midst of the ongoing investigation into Russia's election meddling and the Trump team's potential ties to it. A State Department official said that Trump's comments were "really quite sad," as they underscore the growing sense that Trump "just doesn't get it." A former U.S. ambassador remarked: "For reasons we do not yet know, the president cannot bring himself to criticize Putin."