McDonough: Obama sees Trump as 'freely elected,' defends Lewis

Story highlights

  • Outgoing White House chief of staff: Obama believes Trump is legitimate
  • McDonough: Trump should reach out to John Lewis, not attack him

(CNN)White House chief of staff Denis McDonough defended Georgia Rep. John Lewis Sunday against recent attacks from President-elect Donald Trump, but he did not agree with his claim that Trump is not "legitimate."

McDonough twice referenced President Barack Obama's comments, including during his farewell speech in Chicago last week, that described Trump as being "freely elected."
"The President has made very clear that he believes that (Trump) is the freely elected president," McDonough told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday's "State of the Union." "He will be inaugurated on Friday and he will come into office, hopefully, strengthened by the kind of transition that we've tried to run in this White House."
    But Obama's top aide also said the incoming administration should seek out the civil rights leader as a partner -- not an enemy.
    "My hope would be that the President-elect would reach out to somebody as consequential and somebody who is such a leader as John Lewis, who has done so many things over the course of his life, to try to work this out," McDonough said. "And hopefully not just reach out to him, but pursue some of the policies that Mr. Lewis has literally fought, bled and gone to jail for over the course of his remarkable life."
    The attack, coming on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, set off a firestorm of condemnations from Democrats and some Republicans.
    But Trump said Sunday morning Democrats criticizing him were just jealous.
    "The Democrats are most angry that so many Obama Democrats voted for me," he wrote just after 9 a.m. ET. "With all of the jobs I am bringing back to our Nation, that number..will only get higher. Car companies and others, if they want to do business in our country, have to start making things here again. WIN!"