Protests in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and other parts of the country erupted Thursday night as Americans called on their leaders to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe amid a major shakeup at the Department of Justice.
The demonstrations follow President Donald Trump’s removal of Jeff Sessions as attorney general on Wednesday and his appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Trump also tasked Whitaker with overseeing the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, thus removing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from the probe.
The move places the investigation in jeopardy, as Whitaker has previously expressed deeply critical views of it and may seek to end it altogether.
“We are in fact facing a countdown clock,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) at a demonstration in Chicago on Thursday.
A network of activists called Nobody Is Above the Law set up a website where organizers around the country could list their demonstrations. As of Thursday evening, hundreds of cities in the U.S., Canada and even parts of Europe had protests listed.
Trump “crossed a red line” in appointing Whitaker to oversee the Mueller probe, the group wrote on its website. “We’re mobilizing immediately to demand accountability, because Trump is not above the law.”
The protests kicked off Thursday night as media outlets began recirculating a 2017 interview Whitaker gave on “The David Webb Show” in which he argued that a U.S. president has the power to end any federal investigation without obstructing justice.
In the interview, first reported by Mother Jones, Whitaker discussed the reports at the time that Trump had asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Whitaker, then the head of a conservative nonprofit group, argued there was no case for obstruction of justice regardless of Trump’s motives because the president’s executive power enables him to make such calls.
In D.C., hundreds of people gathered in front of the White House to protest Whitaker’s appointment and defend the Mueller probe. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) called the appointment “unconstitutional” while addressing the crowd.
Paul Blumenthal contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.