11, August 2017
US President Donald Trump has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for kicking out hundreds of American diplomats, because the United States is “trying to cut down [its] payroll.” “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll … I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club on Thursday.
“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “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.” It is however unclear how President Putin’s booting out American diplomats would remove them from the US payroll.
The Republican-controlled Congress approved the new sanctions package last month against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The bill was passed with overwhelming margins, eliminating the prospect of a presidential veto. The legislation is particularly aimed at punishing Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and the reunion of Crimea with Russia.
Russia responded by saying the sanctions amounted to a full-scale trade war and an end to hopes for better ties with the Trump administration. President Putin ordered 755 US diplomats to leave the country after Congress passed the sanctions bill.
The Trump administration, which had sought better relations with Russia, described the Russian move as another setback. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “this had created serious mistrust,” adding that the United States would respond to Moscow’s decision.
Trump’s desire for better ties with Moscow has been hampered by accusations from US intelligence agencies that Russia operated a series of high-profile cyber attacks to change the outcome of the November 8 presidential election in favor of Trump.
A special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, as well as several congressional committees are investigating whether the Russian government coordinated with Trump’s associates during the 2016 campaign and transition. Trump denies any collusion by his campaign and Moscow denies any meddling.
Trump has voiced his criticism about that the probe, but he he said on Thursday he will not fire Mueller. “I want them to get on with the task,” Trump said, despite the fact that Mueller is investigating “something that never happened.”
Trump said Democrats are the ones who should be investigated for collusion, not him. “There was no collusion between us and Russia. In fact, the opposite,” Trump said. “Russia spent a lot of money on fighting me, and if you think about it, I want a strong military — you see our budget is up by — it will be hundreds of billions of dollars soon. Our military budget. Russia doesn’t like that. Hillary was going to cut the budget substantially — the military budget. Russia — is very important for Russia — oil. Oil and gas. We are now an exporter because of an incredible six months that — an exporter of oil and gas. That’s bad for Russia.”
“I don’t think Russia wants me because I want a strong military and I want low energy prices. Energy is a disaster, low energy prices is a disaster for Russia,” he added. Trump has previously said Russia would have preferred a weak American leader, like his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.