Donald Trump on Saturday kicked off the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend by criticizing civil rights leader and US Rep. John Lewis, a day after the Georgia Democrat said he doesn’t see Trump as a legitimate president because of Russian interference with the US election.
Lewis told Chuck Todd of Meet the Press that he won’t be attending Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” said Lewis, who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March On Washington. “I don’t plan to attend the inauguration.”
Lewis said Russian involvement was why he did not believe Trump was a “legitimate president.”
“I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected,” Lewis said. “That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.”
It will be the first inauguration Lewis doesn’t attend in his 30-year congressional career.
Lewis’ interview on Meet the Press is scheduled to air Sunday morning, but NBC released a preview of the exchange Friday afternoon.
Asked if he would work with the incoming president, Lewis said he believed in forgiveness and working with others but said that “it’s going to be hard.”
Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but on Saturday Trump tweeted about Lewis, criticizing him for being “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”
Reacting on Twitter, people were incredulous that Trump chose to criticize Lewis.
Many chose to highlight Lewis’ civil rights work, including his being beaten by police in Selma in 1965, to counter Trump’s claim that he was “all talk.”
Despite the social media uproar, Trump continued to criticize the Georgia congressman. By Saturday evening, he followed up with another tweet.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris, former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, and the civil rights groups the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center also defended Lewis.
Some Trump supporters, though, agreed with the president-elect that Lewis’s focus was misplaced or defended Trump’s right to hit back.
Lewis’s comments come after intelligence agencies said Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman during the race as a way to help elect Trump.
Lewis also spoke amid reports that Trump and President Obama were briefed on a 35-page dossier alleging Russia was in contact with Trump’s campaign during the election and that the Kremlin had compiled compromising personal and financial details about the incoming president.
BuzzFeed News published the dossier, and like other news agencies has been unable to verify the details. Trump has denied the allegations made in the dossier and attacked BuzzFeed News at a news conference on Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement the intelligence agencies have “not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable.”
FBI Director James Comey was scheduled to brief members of congress Friday about the 35-page dossier.
A spokeswoman for Lewis told BuzzFeed News the congressman was unable to attend the briefing. She declined to answer other questions, such as when Lewis decided not to attend the inauguration.
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