Former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has a right to talk to Russian leader Vladimir Putin but urges the president to show backbone in conversations.
“If you're talking to Putin, it's important to be straightforward and honest with Putin,” Panetta said during an interview with Neil Cavuto on FOX Business. “He is somebody that you have to be very straight with, and if you try to cater to him, he will take advantage of it.”
Panetta pointed out that previous U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, have made congratulatory calls to other world leaders despite a country’s political process in selecting its leaders.
“Presidents talk to kings and emperors and tyrants regardless of whether or not they were elected with any kind of democratic process or not,” Panetta said. He served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and secretary of defense and CIA director under Obama.
On Tuesday, Trump placed a call to the Russian president after the National Security Council prepared a memo for the president’s post-election phone call warning him not to congratulate Putin.
Fox News has learned that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is “frustrated and deeply disappointed” that someone leaked the contents of the Putin briefing memo.
“There's a problem in the White House when notes that are prepared for the president for a conversation with a foreign leader leaked,” Panetta said. “There's something wrong.”