President Trump responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia. "I want to thank him, because we're trying to cut down on payroll," he said on Aug. 10. (The Washington Post)

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump said here Thursday that he is “very thankful” to Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomats from Russia, because he said it helps him cut the U.S. government's payroll.

Addressing for the first time Putin's decision late last month that the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia would have to cut 775 diplomatic and technical staffers, Trump told reporters that he sees no reason for them to continue working in Russia.

“I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I'm concerned I'm very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump said. “There's no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we've been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We're going to save a lot of money.”

Trump's answer was a tad tongue-in-cheek, but he gave no clear indication that he was joking or trying to be facetious in offering his gratitude to Putin.

Putin's order to expel U.S. diplomats was a significant escalation in tensions after the United States increased sanctions against Russia over the Kremlin's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.


President Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their bilateral meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg on July 7. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)