Incoming White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus Sunday said it was just not "responsible" for civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to question the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election as president.
Priebus, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” echoed his boss’s tweetstorm responding to Lewis’ criticism and decision not to attend Friday’s inauguration.
Lewis said in a “Meet the Press” interview he does not see Trump as a “legitimate president” in light of Russia’s attempts to meddle in the campaign.
"I don't see the president-elect as a legitimate president," Lewis said, adding it will be “very difficult” for him to forge any kind of working relationship with Trump, although he would not reject an overture from the president-elect.
Priebus called Lewis remarks “just not responsible” with five days to go before Trump assumes office.
Pushed on whether this is legitimate payback for Trump’s insistence over the years that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fake, Priebus pointed to the size of Trump’s Electoral College margin to attempt to dispel any question of Trump’s legitimacy, saying it was the largest for a Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan. He drew a distinction on ABC's "This Week" between the birther movement and whether Obama was legitimately elected, saying Republicans had not questioned whether Obama defeated Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008.
"We need folks like John Lewis and others who have been champions of voting rights to recognize" Trump will be president, Priebus said. Priebus noted Director of National Intelligence John Clapper said there is no evidence the Russian machinations actually had an impact on the election. He called on Obama to "get his people in line and tell them to grow up."
Vice President-elect Mike Pence told CBS’ “Face the Nation” said he hoped Lewis would change his mind and attend the inauguration, and stop questioning Trump’s legitimacy.
“Donald Trump has every right to defend himself,” Pence said of Trump’s reaction to the congressman's remarks. “When you have someone like John Lewis … for someone of his stature not only in the civil rights movement but in the voting rights movement to make the comment is deeply disappointing.”
Trump reacted to Lewis’ remarks on Twitter:
When it apparently was pointed out to the president-elect that Lewis’ district is solidly middle-class with some pockets of wealthy constituents, he changed his approach.
Trump Sunday turned his attention to Democrats in general, saying they’re just miffed because he will be better at creating jobs.
Lewis' remarks followed release of intelligence agencies' assessments that Russia was responsible for hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that resulted in the publication of embarrassing emails. WikiLeaks, which published the hacked emails, has denied it obtained them from Russian operatives.
The intelligence agencies concluded Russia was actively trying to boost Trump’s campaign.
The report was accompanied by a two-page summary of an alleged Russian dossier on Trump. Among the allegations in the dossier was that Trump was unable to land any major real estate deals in Russia and had to settle for the “extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”
Trump has tried to deflect attention from the uncorroborated report, describing it as nothing but lies. He labeled BuzzFeed, which published the whole 35-page document earlier this week, as a “failing pile of garbage” during Wednesday’s news conference at Trump Tower in New York and attempted to deflect the sexual allegations by reminding reporters he’s a “germaphobe.”
Trump and his spokesmen also have denied other allegations in the report about contacts between his team and Russian authorities.
The report had been floating around Washington for months but was not made public until after intelligence officials prepared a two-page summary for Trump and President Barack Obama, which was given to them last week. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he turned over his copy to the FBI for investigation.