Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets of major U.S. cities to call for protection of the special counsel charged with investigating ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
The protests late on November 8 came as Democrats in Congress sought emergency hearings into Trump’s ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump had criticized for recusing himself and refusing to interfere with Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian efforts to influence the election.
Several hundred demonstrators gathered in New York’s Times Square and chanted slogans, including “Hands off Mueller” and “Nobody’s above the law” before marching downtown.
In Chicago, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin joined several hundred protesters at Federal Plaza, while some 500 demonstrators gathered at a park near the White House in Washington.
Crowds also turned out in Greensboro, North Carolina, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Las Vegas, Nevada, and many other places, AP reported.
Protest organizers said Trump’s naming of Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, to be acting attorney general on November 7 was a “deliberate attempt to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.”
Trump asked for Sessions’ resignation and then replaced him with Whitaker, who has criticized Mueller’s probe and called for limits on it.
Trump, who has repeatedly said he has the authority for fire Mueller, an independent counsel appointed by the Justice Department, has frequently called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt” and complained that Sessions had done nothing to rein it in.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway earlier on November 8 said Trump has not instructed Whitaker to limit the Russia investigation. But those assurances did not appease the protesters or Democrats in the House of Representatives who are slated to take control of the chamber next year.
In a letter saying Trump’s ouster of Sessions has put the country “in the throes of a constitutional crisis,” House Judiciary Committee Democrats demanded emergency hearings on the change of command at the Justice Department and called for bipartisan legislation to protect Mueller from any effort to stymie his investigation.
A spokesman for the panel’s Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte, declined to comment on the letter.
In the Senate, Democratic Senator Chris Coons and Republican Senator Jeff Flake said they would try to force a vote next week on legislation to protect Mueller from White House interference. The Senate Judiciary Committee already approved a bipartisan bill to do so in April.
Meanwhile, a coalition of 18 state attorneys general has sent a letter to Whitaker calling on him to recuse himself from the special counsel probe like Sessions did, in light of his “widely circulated public comments criticizing” Mueller.
The state attorneys said Whitaker’s recusal is “necessary to maintain public trust in the integrity of the investigation.”
They said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should “continue to supervise” the Mueller probe as he has since last year.
The letter was signed by the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters