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Protesters Denounce Trump’s Seizure of Justice Department

Replacing Sessions with appointee unconfirmed by Senate raises alarm regarding Mueller probe

Members of Rise and Resist carry a banner emphasizing the need to protect the Mueller investigation.
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One day after President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, demonstrators massed in cities across the nation — each gathering beginning at 5 p.m. local time — to protest what is widely understood to be an effort to undermine and perhaps end Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In New York, thousands jammed Times Square and marched south to Union Square in the early evening of November 8. There, several people — including Manhattan Democratic Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and Patricia Okoumou, who was arrested at any anti-Trump demonstration at the Statue of Liberty on Fourth of July — made impromptu remarks to the crowd.

The demonstrators included members of Gays Against Guns, the group’s affiliate chorus Sing Out Louise, Rise and Resist, the National Organization for Women — New York City, local Democratic clubs, and numerous chapters of MoveOn.org and Indivisible Nation.

No one is above the law was a major theme of the protest.

The president long regarded Sessions’ recusing himself from the Mueller investigation — given his work on Trump’s 2016 campaign — as a betrayal, a sign that the attorney general would not work actively to protect him.

Though Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the lead Justice Department official involved in the Mueller probe, is the official who would customarily step up to act as interim attorney general after Sessions’ departure, Trump instead designated Matthew Whitaker, who served as Sessions’ chief of staff, to be the acting AG.

Numerous legal observers, including top White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George Conway III, have charged that Whitaker’s interim appointment is unconstitutional because he did not have Senate confirmation for his original post in the Justice Department. The Constitution requires that agency officials who report only to the president must be confirmed by the Senate.

Prior to working for Sessions, Conway, a former US attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, was an outspoken critic of the Mueller investigation, saying that the former FBI director’s appointment was “a little fishy” and declaring that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump campaign.

Whitaker has also voiced extreme views about the role of judiciary, going so far as to question the Supreme Court’s 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison, which established the precedent for judicial review of laws enacted by Congress and signed by the president. Whitaker referred to the Judiciary, a co-equal branch of the federal government, as an “inferior branch.”

Democrats in Washington have voiced alarm at Sessions’ replacement by Whitaker, who is reported to be absolutely unwilling to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation. Top Democrats are demanding that all documents from the Mueller probe and related to Sessions’ firing be preserved, and even some Republicans — including Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Maine Senator Susan Collins, and Utah Senator-Elect Mitt Romney — warned that the Mueller investigation must not be impeded.

Updated 1:24 pm, November 9, 2018
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