Trump thanks Russia’s Putin for slashing US diplomatic staff

The US embassy building is reflected in a window of a Russian Army store in Moscow, Russia, on July 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva)
Updated 11 August 2017

Trump thanks Russia’s Putin for slashing US diplomatic staff

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the United States to slash its diplomatic staff in Russia, remarks likely to rekindle criticism of Trump’s kid-gloves handling of Putin.
Breaking nearly two weeks of silence on Putin’s July 30 order cutting US embassy and consulate staff by nearly two thirds, Trump said: “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.”
Trump said “there’s no real reason for them to go back” and “we’re going to save a lot of money,” in response to Putin’s Cold War-style move, differing from the reactions of other presidents in similar circumstances in the past.
It also clashes with a State Department official having called Moscow’s order “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”
On Thursday, the State Department had no immediate reaction to the comments Trump made to reporters while on vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating the conclusions of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election campaign by hacking and other methods to help Trump, a Republican. They are also looking into possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. Moscow has repeatedly denied meddling in the election and Trump denies any campaign collusion.
Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the US Congress and reluctantly signed into law by Trump, ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 embassy and consulate staff by September. Many of those affected likely will be local Russian staffers.
It was also a tit-for-tat reaction to former President Barack Obama expelling 35 Russian diplomats from the United States last December over the intelligence agency reports.
During his campaign and since becoming president, Trump has consistently called for better ties with Russia, declined to criticize Putin and refused to unequivocally embrace the conclusions of the intelligence agencies.
Intended to be flippant or not, Trump’s remarks on Thursday were immediately denounced by current and former US officials who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official under Republican President George W. Bush, called Trump’s comments “grotesque.”
“If he was joking, he should know better,” said Burns, now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “If he wasn’t, it’s unprecedented. A president has never defended the expulsion of our diplomats.”
The State Department has “horrified and rattled” by Trump’s remarks, said a veteran US diplomat who has served in Russia, speaking on condition of anonymity.
And Heather Conley, formerly a top State Department official dealing with European affairs, said the expulsions of hundreds of people from an important US embassy is extraordinary and “it is very difficult to see how the president could view these expulsions as a ‘positive’ development in any form.”
In additional remarks on Thursday, Trump said he was surprised by the FBI raid last month on the home of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, adding that it sent a “strong signal.”
Trump said he has not given any thought to the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. In May, Trump dismissed James Comey, who was Director of the FBI when Trump went into office seven months ago.
As presidential candidate, Trump invited Russia to dig up thousands of “missing” e-mails from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, vexing intelligence experts and prompting Democrats to accuse him of urging a foreign country to spy on Americans.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing,” Trump said on the campaign.
Clinton kept a private server from 2009 to 2013. She handed over thousands of e-mails in 2015 to investigators, but did not release about 30,000 she said were personal and not work-related.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 54 min 5 sec ago

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.