There is nothing to stop Donald Trump's swearing-in as the 45th American president, despite public dissent, such as Democratic Congressman John Lewis's contention that Mr. Trump will be not be a "legitimate" president.

Those many voters who cling to the Georgia civil-rights icon's view have come up with no way to give teeth to their lament. Mr. Trump has dismissed with the back of his hand the judgment of ethics arbiters that his plan to turn over his real estate empire to his two eldest sons still violates conflict-of-interest standards, which dictate a clean blind-trust arrangement.


Departing President Obama from the start has promised to do his utmost to assure the same smooth transfer of power that his own Republican predecessor afforded him in 2009. Even so, Mr. Trump's incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has called on Mr. Obama to "step up" by refuting Mr. Lewis's comment and rebuking his plan to skip Mr. Trump's swearing-in.

Mr. Priebus also cautioned Walter M. Schaub Jr., head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, "to be careful" after he said in a Brookings Institution speech that the Trump family handoff was "meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective." Mr. Schaub added: "We can't risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for personal profit."

Mr. Priebus also observed that Mr. Schaub was "becoming extremely political" in his supposedly non-political job. "I'm not sure what this person at Government Ethics, what sort of standing he has anymore to be giving these opinions," he said.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, sent Mr. Schaub a letter saying he had overstepped his mandate and calling him to a closed-door meeting of his committee.

Its ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, then accused Mr. Chaffetz and the Trump transition of being "engaged in a blatant, concentrated attack" on Mr. Schaub "simply because he is trying to protect (the country) against conflict-of-interest and constitutional violations."

Mr. Schaub has been at the federal ethics office, overseeing 130 government ethics agencies, since 2008 and was appointed chairman by Obama 2013 to a five-year term. But the Priebus warning "to be careful" nevertheless had ominous implications for his future under Mr. Trump, whose company will still have far-flung ties to government agencies in the real-estate and other private fields.

All this, of course, has come much too late and with no apparent route left now to put brakes on today's Trump inauguration. That fact, however, did not stop the president-elect from taking to Twitter to reply to John Lewis with another of his now-routine personal attacks.

Mr. Lewis, he wrote in an early-morning tweet, "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--no action or results. Sad!"

Mr. Lewis's Fifth Congressional District includes about three-quarters of the city of Atlanta and includes the campuses of Georgia Tech and Emory University, as well as the upscale residential section of Buckhead and Hartfield-Jackson Airport. Its population is two-thirds African-American, one-third white. Lewis has held the seat since 1987.

He is well remembered among the leaders of the 1965 Freedom Riders march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on "Bloody Sunday," in which he was badly beaten. Fifty years later, he joined hands and walked across it with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now Mr. Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney general.

Mr. Lewis now opposes the Sessions cabinet nomination, declaring, "We need an attorney general who's going to look out for all of us, just some of us."

Mr. Trump, in disparaging Mr. Lewis's home district in his retaliatory tweet, reflected his continued sensitivity to the Democrats' tendency to remind him that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots to Hillary Clinton.

But no matter what Mr. Lewis has said, his view does not delegitimize the outcome, which will be sanctified at the Capitol at noon, with Mr. Lewis and many other Democratic members of Congress conspicuously absent.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at