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Trump starts Martin Luther King weekend by attacking civil rights leader John Lewis

In this Jan. 11, 2017, file photo, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)
In this Jan. 11, 2017, file photo, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)
By Cathleen Decker Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump Saturday criticized as “all talk … no action” Rep. John Lewis, who was repeatedly beaten and nearly lost his life in the long struggle for civil rights.

Trump’s Twitter comments early Saturday about the Georgia congressman followed Lewis’s assertion Friday that he did not see Trump as a “legitimate” president because of Russian involvement in the defeat of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s attack on Lewis came at the beginning of a weekend dedicated to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., over something Trump himself has done repeatedly. Trump built his political name on an effort over five years to delegitimize Barack Obama by falsely claiming that the president he was foreign-born.

Trump also used racially freighted language when he said that Lewis’ Atlanta district was “crime infested” and “falling apart.” (The district includes many of the area’s most successful neighborhoods.)

The furor began Friday with the release of part of an interview for NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which Lewis was asked if he would try to work with Trump despite their political differences.

“I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It’s going to be hard,” Lewis said. “I don’t see the president-elect as a legitimate president.”

He said he believed “the Russians participated” in Trump’s election and added: “They helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” As a result, he said, he would not attend Trump’s inauguration Friday.

“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. All talk, talk, talk-no action or results. Sad!” Trump’s Twitter post said.

Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, by that time already a central figure in the efforts of African-Americans to secure civil rights. For years, he was repeatedly arrested and beaten in southern protests.

In 1965, during the “Bloody Sunday” march at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, Lewis was clubbed so severely that his skull was fractured. He recovered and led other protests, and 30 years ago was elected to Congress.

In 2011, Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“Generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind-an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now,” Obama said.

In 2015, Obama joined Lewis and other civil rights veterans for a 50th anniversary walk over the bridge at which Lewis was wounded.

Trump’s remarks, reminiscent of his summer attack on a Gold Star family who spoke against him at the Democratic convention, spurred defenses of Lewis by political figures and others.

“John Lewis is an icon of the civil rights movement who is fearless in the pursuit of justice and equality,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. “He deserves better than this.”

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