Trump says he's 'thankful' Putin expelled hundreds of US diplomats from Russia

BEDMINISTER, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump brushed off Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomatic employees from Russia, instead thanking Putin and insisting it will save the U.S. significant cash.

In remarks to reporters Thursday, Trump dismissed Putin's move, saying it would "cut down our payroll" at the State Department.

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," Trump said, adding: "As far as I am 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 they've been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We'll save a lot of money."

It was unclear whether the president was joking at all in his remarks, which were made following a security briefing held during an extended working vacation at Trump's Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course.

Putin said last month the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its embassy and consular staff in Russia because of new U.S. sanctions.

Moscow's move was a long-expected response to President Barack Obama's order to expel 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreational retreats in the U.S.

Obama took action following allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has said he believes U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusions that Russia meddled in the election, but he has dismissed possible collusion between Moscow and his campaign aides as a "witch hunt."