President Donald Trump's expression of gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomatic employees from Russia was "sarcastic," a senior White House official told ABC News Friday.
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Trump, who claimed the action taken by Putin was financially advantageous to the U.S., made the comment while taking questions from reporters Thursday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“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,” said Trump, who made no indication that the sentiment was insincere or meant to be perceived as in jest.
Russia's Foreign Ministry ordered the reduction in response to new sanctions against Russia that Trump signed into law earlier this month.
On July 28, the U.S. ambassador to Russia expressed "strong disappointment and protest" to Russia after it seized two American facilities and called on the U.S. to remove some of its personnel or face expulsion from the country.
“We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador [John] Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest,” a State Department official told ABC News.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has stated that the U.S. must reduce its diplomatic and technical staff to match the number of Russian staff working in America by Sept. 1. Russia said it currently has 455 staff members working in the U.S.
The two facilities Russia seized are a recreational country house outside Moscow and a storage facility in Moscow.
ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.