Washington, DC — Thousands rallied in hundreds of cities across the country Thursday night after President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The mass mobilization was triggered by the Sessions’ firing and subsequent installation of Matt Whitaker as acting Attorney General, actions seen as attempts to undermine the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller. Over a thousand people gathered at the White House to hear speakers from a number of citizen watch-groups.
“We are in a full-blown constitutional crisis, and we’re here because Donald Trump thinks he’s above the law,” said Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Shaub is presently with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
Whitaker’s commentary and public statements have made it clear that he is biased and should recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation, Shaub said. Whitaker previously came out in a CNN opinion piece opposed to Mueller’s inquiries of the Trump family business ties. He has also voiced his concern the Mueller investigation has gone on too long, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.
Shaub served during the Obama Presidency and during part of the Trump Presidency overseeing government ethics. He voiced concern that the current situation was also an ethics crisis. He compared Sessions’ termination, the removal of Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein from overseeing the Mueller investigation, and the appointment of Whitaker to acting Attorney General as equivalent to the Saturday Night Massacre of the Nixon Administration.
“Nixon tried the same thing, and it ended his presidency, and it should end this presidency,” said Shaub.
Shaub was referring to the ‘Saturday Night Massacre,’ a pivotal moment during the Watergate investigation 45 years ago. On October 20, 1973, Nixon attempted to end Special Counsel Archibald Cox’s investigation of his administration when it became publicly known Nixon kept tape recordings of Oval Office phone conversations. Cox subpoenaed the tapes but Nixon claimed executive privilege. On that fateful night, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Cox, but he refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, but he also refused and Nixon fired him too. Nixon then ordered Robert Bork to fire Cox and he carried out the order.
“People expect us to have a democracy, and they put a check on that President in that White House,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. Flynn has over 30 years experience keeping tabs on government operations.
Flynn said that Trump’s press conference in response to the success of the Democrats in the House of Representatives was to threaten to investigate anyone who investigates him. “He threatened the American People for holding him accountable,” she said. “And we are here tonight to say Trump is not above the law.”
“We’ve got a President who thinks he’s above the rule of law,” said Fred Wertheimer, President and CEO of Democracy 21. Wertheimer, who bore witness to the Watergate scandal as an attorney working for Common Cause, said that the reason Nixon failed to prevail was because citizens got involved and demanded their representatives to act against him.
“I did not expect ever to be back talking about this problem again but that’s what we’re facing today,” Wertheimer said “We’ve got an attack on the rule of law and a president who thinks he’s a dictator.”
He added that we can’t rely on others to get us out of this crisis. “This is a fight that we are all going to have to participate in and we are all going to have to be here for as long as it takes,” he said.
Citizens must pressure the Senate to act on protecting Mueller to see the investigation to completion, he said. “This is a fight our parents and grandparents won in 1973 and has now been passed onto us today.”
Wertheimer quoted then-Attorney General Elliott Richardson, “Whether we should continue to be a government of laws and not of men and women is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide.”
Organizers plan to continue holding opposition rallies around the country against the Trump shakeups at the Department of Justice, and until either Congress intervenes and passes legislation to protect Robert Mueller, or until Jeffery Whitaker recuses himself from oversight of the investigation.