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State Dept. Blasts Russia for Expelling U.S. Diplomats: ‘There Is No Justification for the Russian Response’

NBC's Andrea Mitchell asks why Trump has been silent on issue

• March 29, 2018 5:08 pm

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State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Thursday castigated Russia for expelling 60 U.S. diplomats from the country and closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, saying that Moscow has "no justification" for doing so.

Russia's announcement on Thursday came days after the Trump administration ordered 60 Russian intelligence officers acting as diplomats to leave the U.S. and the closure of Russia's consulate in Seattle. Washington's decision was a response to the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, which the U.S. and its European allies have blamed on Moscow.

"There is no justification for the Russian response. Our actions were motivated purely by the attack on the United Kingdom, the attack on a British citizen, and his daughter," Nauert said at a press briefing. "Remember, this is the first time that a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok, has been used outside of war on allied soil."

Nauert also mentioned that 28 other countries have joined the U.S. in removing Russian spies in retaliation. Nauert said that Russia's actions are isolating it from the rest of the world, not just the United States.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell criticized President Donald Trump in a question to Nauert, asking why Trump has been silent on Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Why haven't we heard from the president of the United States?" Mitchell said. "The last thing we know about his communications with Russia were his congratulatory call to Vladimir Putin when he did not mention this attack."

Nauert reminded Mitchell that she was not on the call between Trump and Putin and therefore could not say that Trump did not take the matter up with Putin. Nauert also said that, despite problems between the United States and Russia, communication must exist between the two countries.

Mitchell asked if there is a difference between Trump and the actions taken by the Trump administration. Trump himself is reported to have been the one responsible for ordering the expulsion of the Russian spies. Thursday was not the first time Mitchell criticized the Trump administration for not taking tough enough action against Russia.

"I'd say this is a tired storyline," Nauert said. "This administration has taken very tough actions against Russia, not against the Russian people but against the Russian government."

"You have seen that through numerous rounds of sanctions," Nauert continued. "You've seen that through our actions that we took earlier this week. You've seen that through our actions that we've taken at the United Nations, standing together against Russia and its activities in which it still continues to kill and be responsible for killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians who are living in Syria. Our actions have been extremely tough."