Nov. 10, 2018 — Almost 80 protestors chanted “Let Bob do his job” Thursday night as Siuslaw residents traversed Highway 101 to protest the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by President Donald Trump. The firing sparked hundreds of protests across the nation, including marches in Yachats, Coos Bay and Eugene, in an effort to keep the now acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from shutting down the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I’ve been following the news the last day since Trump fired Sessions, and I’m really concerned about what the next step might be with his replacement,” said local protestor Mike Allen.
Whitaker has called the investigation, which is being headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, “ridiculous,” remarking in a July interview on CNN, “I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but just reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
Because of his comments, fears have arisen that he will work to undermine the investigation. Whitaker has not yet stated how he will handle the probe since becoming acting attorney general, though he has stated he will not recuse himself because of the previous comments he made.
Regardless, the possibility he may derail the investigation is what is sparking the current spate of nationwide protests, which have been planned for months in the event of Sessions’ dismissal.
“It was almost a year ago when we saw millions of people signing up on MoveOn.org,” said Paula Zieglasch, who organized Thursday’s event.
MoveOn, a political activism platform, began organizing the rallies earlier in the year, with the suggestion that if the Mueller investigation was ever put in danger, protests would begin at 5 p.m. the day after Sessions was let go.
“This was really the line in the sand for me,” said Zieglasch, who used to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “I work for the law — I believe in the law — and I feel it was threatened. So, I drew the line. They called me and asked me to be the host. I did my emailing to the 75 that had signed up, and we got a pretty good turnout and we’re here to fight the fight.”
The Thursday night march on Highway 101 was peaceful, with protestors waving signs and chanting support of Mueller. Dozens of cars honked in approval of the protest, while one person shouted out their window, “Protect Trump.”
The protestors did not shout anti-Republican slogans, nor were they aggressive toward Trump himself. This protest was meant for a different audience.
“This is about getting Congress to protect Mueller,” Allen said. “I know that’s been a hard road for them, but maybe now they will act with that with these 900 protests across the country.”
In April, the U.S. Senate created a nonpartisan bill titled the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would have codified into law the existing Justice Department regulation that says a special counsel may be fired only by the attorney general, and only for good cause.
The bill would call for a 10-day window within which the special counsel, if they felt the investigation was terminated without cause, could petition a panel of judges about the termination. The bill would ensure that the special counsel’s staff and materials would be preserved until a decision was met.
The bill never made it to the Senate floor for a vote, with many Republican senators questioning its efficacy. At the time, Republicans had not seen Trump make any concrete moves to end the investigation, and some senators questioned the constitutionality of the bill.
However, now that there is a possibility of the investigation being impeded, the bill is showing signs of bipartisan traction again.
“Jerry Moran, who was my senator in Kansas, has come out and told Trump that he should not do this,” said Frank Smith, a Florence protestor who moved to the area three years ago. “I’ve spoken to him a lot. If he’s there, I can’t imagine that people like Corker and Flake aren’t going to say something.”
Two days ago, Moran did express support in protecting the investigation, and Republican Jeff Flake stated that he would introduce the bill to the Senate floor.
While local protesters stated the march was about Mueller, it was clear there was little love lost for the president, with some signs reading “Impeach Trump.”
Regarding impeachment, Allen said, “Down the road, when our new House is in order, maybe then we can answer that question.”
While the Mueller investigation has been able to produce multiple indictments for Russian nationals attempting to disrupt the election and has been able to indict some Trump campaign officials for lying to authorities, thus far no hard evidence of actual collusion or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has surfaced. If Mueller is unable to find any impeachable offense by the Trump administration, and the president is exonerated, would the protesters accept Mueller’s findings?
“Based on the respect that everyone has given to Mueller, I would accept that, if that was the case,” Allen said.
But to make that conclusion, the report has to be released, unhindered. While it is unknown when this journey will ultimately end, it is known that the endgame is beginning: CNN reported this week that Mueller’s team has begun writing its final report.
Whatever the outcome of the Mueller investigation is, those who came to protest Thursday night are ready and willing to make their voices heard until the matter is resolved.
“I’m just really pleased that people will step up, show up, practice their first amendment right, and speak up when we need to do it,” protestor Nora Kent said. “This is what democracy looks like.”