On Thursday, Donald Trump personally thanked Vladimir Putin for expelling more than 700 people from the American diplomatic mission in Russia. “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 said.
Previously, Trump had attacked Congress for imposing sanctions on Russia.
Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2017
Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-FL) says this alarming behavior is nothing to worry about because Trump is just joking. In a Friday morning appearance on MSNBC DeSantis said that Trump’s comments about Putin were “tongue-in-cheek.”
As MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson noted, “he didn’t smile,” so it’s unclear how DeSantis came to this conclusion. Trump has also not made any other comments about the sanctions imposed by Putin.
One group of people who did take Trump seriously were the professional diplomats at the State Department. “This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” one diplomat told Politico. Another State Department employee said, “I don’t have words that are printable to describe my reaction.”
Nicholas Burns, who served in top diplomatic posts for the entire George W. Bush administration (and for a couple of years under Bill Clinton), condemned Trump’s comments as “shameful” and “grotesque.” He urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak up and defend the foreign service.
— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) August 10, 2017
After Trump's shameful comments about US diplomats, Secretary Rex Tillerson should speak up for the Foreign Service https://t.co/lHRocSHH4o
— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) August 11, 2017
DeSantis admitted on MSNBC that he hadn’t talked to the president and was basing his interpretation on generally “knowing the president.” He then dismissed the controversy as a media creation.
DeSantis’ comments are part of a troubling pattern of Trump and his allies justifying Trump’s outlandish comments by labeling them jokes.
UPDATE: The White House also claims Trump was being sarcastic.
WH official says @POTUS was being sarcastic when he thanked Putin for expelling US officials from Russia.
— margaret brennan (@margbrennan) August 11, 2017