Trump thanks Putin for ordering US diplomatic staff be cut

The US embassy in Moscow, Russia, on 28 July 2017Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Russia said the US diplomatic staff would have to leave by 1 September

US President Donald Trump has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the departure of 755 staff from US diplomatic missions.

Speaking to reporters in New Jersey, he said he wanted to thank the Russian leader for saving the US money.

Several US investigations are looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which allegedly meddled in the 2016 election.

Mr Trump has rejected the inquiries as a "witch hunt".

Media caption,
Who's in Trump's good and bad books?

At the end of July, President Putin said 755 staff would have to leave US diplomatic missions in Russia, in retaliation for new US sanctions against Moscow.

Many employees are believed to be "local hires", meaning it is likely far less than 755 people will actually have to leave the country.

He said they had to leave by 1 September, bringing staff levels to 455, the same as Russia's complement in Washington.

'Very thankful'

Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St Petersburg were affected.

At the time, the US State Department said the move was a "regrettable and uncalled for act".

But Mr Trump thanked Mr Putin for reducing the US 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," he said.

Also on Thursday, President Trump said he was "very surprised" by raids on the Virginia home of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort by federal agents on 26 July.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading up the main investigation into Russian election interference, left Mr Manafort's Alexandria home with "various records", the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The president, who is on a working holiday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, also told reporters he had not thought about the possibility of firing Mr Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel in May following Mr Trump's sacking of then FBI Director James Comey.