Trump Says He's Glad Russia Expelled Over 700 Diplomats & Twitter Is Fuming
In the Russian tit-for-tat that occurred right after Congress passed a sweeping sanctions bill, some 700 diplomats and State Department employees were ordered to leave the country. This was not just in response to the bill but also the Obama Administration's move to close two Russian compounds in the United States in response to election interference. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised retaliatory steps by Sep. 1, but it seems the president didn't want to wait that long. On Thursday, Trump said he's glad Russia expelled the diplomats because the country will save on payroll. The reaction has been resoundingly negative.
Trump's comments came at a press conference outside his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It was reported in different media both that the president spoke in a light tone and may have been joking and that he "did not appear to be joking or responding sarcastically." Regardless, foreign affairs experts, diplomats, and journalists are taking him at his word. Here's what he told the crowd of reporters about Putin's move:
The comment sparked near immediate controversy, which can be seen in statements, comments given to newspapers, and the president's own favored form of communication: tweets. Here are a few of the responses that cover just how unhappy experts are.
3) Rep. Eliot Engel
Also a Democrat from New York representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, Rep. Eliot Engel, is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He released a statement, saying that the president's comment "plumbs new depths of disrespect toward the men and women who sacrifice and serve our country." He added that "the president owes our diplomats an apology."
"President Trump once again let Russia off the hook and instead insulted America's diplomats," Engel said. "No doubt, the President's staff will eventually try to clean up after the parade by claiming it was a joke, but there's nothing funny about this."
5) Anonymous Current Diplomats And State Department Employees
Politico's Louis Nelson reported on the story and spoke with a number of diplomas and State Department employees. One told the news source, "This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm's way."
Another spoke of how many at State feel exactly the same way:
Some were even at a loss for (appropriate) words. "THANK Putin?" one diplomat responded to Politico. "I don't have words that are printable to describe my reaction."
8) Barbara Stephenson, Head Of Diplomats' Union
Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing diplomats. She had a clear statement on the matter:
9) Garry Kasparov, Chair Of Human Rights Foundation
Human Rights Foundation is a non-partisan group that works to spread human rights globally. Garry Kasparov is its chairman and the Russian-Croatian chess grandmaster.
13) Spencer Ackerman, Daily Beast Reporter
Ackerman covers national security for the Daily Beast. He points out perhaps the least logical part of Trump's statement: The United States still has to keep paying the diplomats that were expelled from Russia. They'll be reassigned to another country or work from the State Department headquarters.
In summary, Trump's statement was far from appreciated by those who know best.