Donald Trump has attacked civil rights icon John Lewis on the weekend that the US celebrates the life of Martin Luther King Jr, sparking another controversy for the president-elect just days before he is due to take office.
Mr Trump took to Twitter to criticise Mr Lewis after the long-serving Democratic congressman spoke out against Jeff Sessions, Mr Trump’s nominee for attorney-general and alleged that he did not see Mr Trump as a “legitimate” president given the allegations of Russian interference during the US election.
“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to . . . mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Mr Tump tweeted on Saturday morning. “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”
Mr Lewis was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders who rode buses from Washington to New Orleans in 1961, to challenge local segregation — with the riders often beaten up by white supremacists in the process, and was one of the main leaders of the 1963 March on Washington, which remains to this day one of the largest political and civil rights marches in US history. He was also a lead figure in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, which will air in full on Sunday, Mr Lewis said he believed Moscow had helped Mr Trump get elected, and said he himself did not see the “president-elect as a legitimate president”.
“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Mr Lewis told NBC.
The Democratic congressman has long been a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, and had already stated that he did not plan to attend Mr Trump’s inauguration next week. He is one of nine Democratic representatives to Congress who say they will skip out on January 20, a number that could grow following Mr Trump’s attack on Mr Lewis.
On Twitter, many observers were quick to point out that Mr Lewis represents relatively affluent districts of Atlanta where more than four-fifths of residents have high school diplomas and an estimated 44 per cent of residents are college-educated.
The exchange is likely to stoke new tensions between Congressional Democrats and the president-elect at a time when Mr Trump’s cabinet appointees are in the midst of confirmation hearings, and Mr Trump is preparing to begin his first-100 day agenda.
On Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it would hold hearings on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election — another issue that continues to hang over Mr Trump as he takes office.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time Russia’s involvement in an election-related hack on the Democratic National Committee.
Yet many Democrats and some Republicans in Congress worry that Mr Trump, and his proposed secretary-of-state Rex Tillerson would reverse current sanctions of Russia, a matter that has dogged Mr Tillerson’s confirmation hearing.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on Friday evening, Mr Trump said he planned to keep the current sanctions against Russia “for at least a period of time”, but said he was also open to lifting them if US-Russia relations improved.
“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” the president-elect said.
Separately, Mr Trump said he also consider recognising Taiwan diplomatically, a move that would reverse years of a longstanding US policy known as “One China” and potentially massively disrupt US relations with Beijing.
“Everything is under negotiation,” Mr Trump told the Journal, “including One China.”
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