- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2018

American leaders must discuss matters with leaders of rival nations but they shouldn’t coddle them or give them lofty treatment, lawmakers in both parties said Sunday, responding to President Trump’s decision to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to D.C. this fall.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said he’s worried the invitation rises to the level of “red-carpet treatment” for a leader accused of meddling in the U.S. election in 2016.

“To me, that’s beyond comprehension,” Mr. Menendez told Fox News Sunday. “You can speak to adversaries, but at the end of the day you have to do it in a way that challenges them.”

Likewise, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said the U.S. “sometimes has to meet with people who we don’t have anything in common with.”

However, the Republican said the White House needs to be “judicious” in who it invites to the U.S., saying the optics around the invitations send a signal to the rest of the world.

Mr. Trump’s decision to invite Mr. Putin appeared to catch his Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats off guard.

Mr. Coats, speaking at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, didn’t know about the invitation until he was informed by the moderator on stage on Thursday.

“Say that again?” Mr. Coats asked in surprise.

When told again about the invitation, Mr. Coats replied, “OK. That’s going to be special.”

Earlier in the week, Mr. Coats issued a statement to reiterate that Russia is actively engaged in “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” after Mr. Trump appeared to trust Mr. Putin’s word that Russia wasn’t interfering.

Mr. Trump walked it back the next day, though lawmakers in both parties say Mr. Trump missed a chance to confront the Russian leader.

Mr. Menendez said Fox News took a harder line on Mr. Putin in a one-on-one interview than the U.S. president had during his press conference in Helsinki.

“I would have liked for him to do what your colleague, Chris Wallace, did in his interview,” Mr. Menendez told Fox News Sunday guest host Bret Baier.

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