Donald Trump threw more praise to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, a day after the Obama administration announced sanctions on people and organizations it believes were involved in suspected Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The president-elect applauded Putin for holding off on retaliating to the U.S. actions, which included sanctions on nine entities and individuals and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. Trump, breaking with many members of his Republican party, has so far downplayed the White House's actions and bipartisan concerns about possible Russian meddling, seeing them as attempts to delegitimize his election.
In a tweet, Trump called it a "great move" for Putin to wait before retaliating, adding that "I always knew he was very smart!" Giving it more exposure, he also pinned the tweet to his account, meaning more recent tweets will not appear above it as they normally would.
On Friday, Putin called the measures "provocative" and "aimed at further weakening the Russia-U.S. relationship." But he said Russia would not expel any U.S. diplomats in response, after Russia's foreign minister earlier indicated that Moscow could. The move was interpreted as waiting to see if Trump will adopt a more conciliatory approach when he takes office next month.
The White House's actions were seen as putting Trump in a difficult spot, as top congressional Republicans called the sanctions "overdue" and more hawkish GOP senators said they would seek tougher measures against Russia. Trump's lauding of Putin comes after a statement Thursday night in which he said "it's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things" than concerns about Russia. He also said he will talk to the intelligence community next week about the "facts" that led to the sanctions.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for appearing too warm with Putin. Trump has not yet said if he will keep Obama's sanctions, seek harsher actions or even roll back other existing measures.
In a statement Thursday, President Barack Obama said that "actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process ... could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government." U.S. officials told NBC News earlier this month that they believe with a "high level" of confidence that Putin became personally involved in the suspected electoral meddling.
Trump's tweet Friday took a decidedly different tone from responses House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave to the sanctions Thursday. Ryan said in a statement that Russia has "consistently sought to undermine" America's interests and called Obama's actions "overdue."
McConnell, meanwhile, said that "the Russians are not our friends" and called the sanctions "a good initial step." He urged an "overwhelming response" to cyberattacks against the U.S.
Sen. John McCain, a hawk on policy toward Russia, has set a hearing on foreign cyberattacks against the U.S. for next week.
Trump's quote about Putin was also distributed more widely Friday on his Instagram account.
The president-elect subsequently tweeted that the Russians are "playing" the media.