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:
I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on 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. There’s no real reason for them to go back. So 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.
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.
1) Michael McFaul, Ambassador To Russia Under President Barack Obama
Cutting our staff by 755 people will do tremendous damage to our diplomatic mission in Russia. That our president does not appreciate this obvious fact suggests he doesn’t understand what embassies do in the pursuit of American national interests.
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."
4) Nicolas Burns, Former Diplomat
In addition to having worked as a diplomat, Nicholas Burns' current gig makes him an expert on this, too. He's a Harvard Kennedy School professor.
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:
I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes. Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.
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."
6) Nahal Toosi, 'Politico' Reporter
Toosi, a foreign affairs correspondent also heard from employees. They were not pleased.
7) Mythili Sampathkumar, 'The Independent' Reporter
This NYC-based reporter for this U.K. paper acknowledges the article to be the "most...something" she's written in a while. She's not the only one finding herself speechless.
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:
America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen. With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever, and we need them where they do the most good — posted abroad, delivering for the American people.
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.
10) Robert Maguire, Freelance Journalist
Again, the "jobs" president probably doesn't want to fire Americans.
11) Billy Flynn, 'Days Of Our Lives'
OK, maybe neither Billy Flynn nor Chad DiMera, the character he plays on Days of Our Lives, is an expert on the matter, but Flynn does make a point about the jobs president praising people getting fired.
12) Nick Schifrin, PBS Newshour Special Correspondent
Even the people from PBS are using words like "extraordinary."
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.