President Donald Trump said Friday he was "absolutely" being sarcastic when he publicly thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia.
The president, who reportedly infuriated State Department officials Thursday when he thanked Putin for helping to reduce the U.S. payroll by removing diplomats from the country, was pressed on whether the comments had been made in earnest or in jest, as White House officials characterized them earlier Friday.
"In order to reduce our payroll? Absolutely," Trump said when asked by reporters in Bedminster, N.J., on Friday whether the comments he’d made to them the day before were sarcastic. "I think you know that."
Trump added that he had recently spoken to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about devising an answer to Russia’s decision to remove numerous diplomats from the country in response to congressional sanctions.
President Trump set off a firestorm within his own State Department on Thursday for his comments.
“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 because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters Thursday.