Combative Trump Pulls His Punches for One Man: Putin

On Twitter, many initially assumed that quote was from The Onion, the ripped-from-the-headlines satirical newspaper that has long mocked presidents and politicians by exaggerating their better-known traits. But even the cutting-edge Onion has a hard time keeping up with today’s head-spinning news events.

Speaking to reporters again on Friday, Mr. Trump said his comment from the day before was only meant to be sarcastic. But he still offered no criticism of Mr. Putin, and Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not respond to a question about why the president remains so reluctant to do so.

Mr. Trump has long expressed admiration for Mr. Putin even as American politicians of both parties have denounced the Russian leader for fomenting a separatist war in Ukraine, trying to destabilize the West, bolstering President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and collaborating with Iran. In the years leading up to his election, Mr. Trump expressed repeated praise for Mr. Putin, calling him “so nice” and a “strong leader” who was doing an “amazing job.” When interviewers asked him about the killing of so many opposition leaders and journalists, Mr. Trump has brushed it off by saying even the United States has engaged in killing.

Mr. Trump’s latest comment came just a week after he posted a message on Twitter blaming the deterioration in relations with Moscow on Congress for passing sanctions on Russia. The sanctions were passed to punish Russia for interfering in last year’s American presidential election and seizing its neighbor’s territory by annexing Crimea, but Mr. Trump made no mention of those actions.

Mr. Putin’s response to the sanctions was to seize two American diplomatic properties and order the United States to cut 755 positions from its embassy and consulates by Sept. 1, the most sweeping such action against American interests in Russia in decades and a decision that typically would have drawn at least a polite letter of complaint by previous presidents, if not a full-throated condemnation.

Most of those who will lose their jobs will be Russian nationals who work for the embassy in nonsensitive positions. Any American diplomats who might have to leave will almost certainly be entitled to keep their jobs and be reassigned to the State Department headquarters or other home agencies in Washington or other overseas postings.

Whether Mr. Trump’s response was intended to be sarcastic or not, longtime Russia policy makers…

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