President Trump thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomatic employees from Russia, saying he appreciated the ability to cut the federal government's payroll.
"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 of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," Mr. Trump told reporters during his 17-day working vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey. "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'll save a lot of money."
Mr. Trump's remarks Thursday were his first comments on the topic, since Putin last month announced the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Kremlin. Putin explained that was tired of waiting to see whether Russia' relationship with the U.S. would improve.
Expelling U.S. diplomats, however, doesn't necessarily remove them from the federal government's payroll -- they just can't stay in Russia.
"We had hoped that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won't be soon," Putin said in an interview televised on Rossiya 1, explaining why Moscow decided to retaliate. "I thought it was the time to show that we're not going to leave it without an answer."
The president's latest comments about the U.S. relationship with Russia are unlikely to ease criticism that Mr. Trump is too close to or too easy on Putin. Mr. Trump continues to dismiss the "witch hunt" Russia investigation.
In the same press conference in which he thanked Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats, Mr. Trump decried the investigation into Russian election meddling and any ties between Mr. Trump's campaign and Russia. The FBI recently conducted a, Mr. Trump's former campaign manager.
"So we have an investigation for something that never took place," Mr. Trump said Thursday.