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Trump thanks Putin for cutting U.S. diplomats ‘because now we have a smaller payroll’

Click to play video: 'President Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats' President Trump thanks Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats
WATCH: U.S. President Donald Trump thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday for expelling a large number of U.S. diplomats, saying he was thankful Putin was helping him to bring down costs – Aug 10, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for slashing the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia, “because now we have a smaller 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,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “There’s no real reason for them to go back.”

WATCH: Putin says U.S. must cut 755 diplomatic staff

Click to play video: 'Putin says U.S. must cut 755 diplomatic staff' Putin says U.S. must cut 755 diplomatic staff
Putin says U.S. must cut 755 diplomatic staff – Jul 31, 2017

Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress, on July 30 ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 embassy and consulate staff by September. Many of those affected are likely to be local Russian staffers.

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It was unclear if Trump was joking in his comments, his first substantive reaction to Putin’s move.

READ MORE: Russia orders U.S. to cut diplomatic staff in half in response to new sanctions

Nicholas Burns, formerly the State Department’s third-ranking official, 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.”

WATCH: Trump, Putin may have met ‘much more than 3 times’ at G20: Russian FM

Click to play video: 'Trump, Putin may have met ‘much more than 3 times’ at G20: Russian FM' Trump, Putin may have met ‘much more than 3 times’ at G20: Russian FM
Trump, Putin may have met ‘much more than 3 times’ at G20: Russian FM – Jul 21, 2017

Trump’s remarks are at odds with the State Department’s reaction to Putin’s order. A State Department official on July 30 called the Russian move “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”

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Trump also said he has not given any thought to the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

READ MORE: Russia expels 755 U.S. diplomatic staff as retaliation to sanctions

He said he was surprised by the FBI raid last month on his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, adding that it sent a “strong signal.”

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