Hundreds of protesters rallied on the New Haven Green against the president’s dismissal of the country’s attorney general, calling the move a bold-faced attack on an independent government investigation and on the integrity of American democracy.
On Thursday at 5 p.m., around 300 protesters gathered at the corner of Elm Street and Church Street to sing, chant, boo, and jeer in response to President Donald Trump’s recent firing of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointment of Sessions’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as the country’s new acting top law official.
“You are here because our democracy is under attack,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told the crowd. “It is a ‘break the glass’ moment, and you are at the tip of the spear to make sure that we preserve the rule of law in the greatest country in the history of the world.”
The rally was organized by a slew of primarily suburban liberal advocacy groups that have popped up since Trump’s election in 2016, including Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible, Common Cause Connecticut, Orange Indivisible, and Action Together Connecticut.
Carol Rizzolo (pictured), an organizer with Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible, said that the New Haven rally was one of 10 happening throughout the state at exactly 5 p.m.. It was one of 900 similar protests scheduled to occur throughout the nation at that time, supported by the national liberal organizing group MoveOn.
“This is our ‘Nobody is Above the Law’ rally in response to the removal of Rosenstein and the threat to the Mueller investigation,” Rizzolo said, referencing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who up until Wednesday had been overseeing Independent Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Now that Sessions, who was a supporter of some of Trump’s most conservative policies on immigration and criminal justice, is out, Whitaker has replaced Rosenstein as the arbiter of how the independent counsel’s office will be funded and what it will be allowed to investigate. Sessions had angered Trump from recusing himself from that investigation.
“This is all about protecting the exploring of what did Russia do in our elections,” Rizzolo continued, “and getting the meddling out of them. Obviously our president has chosen not to protect Bob Mueller, and the Congress hasn’t stepped up to do it either.”
In between 1960s-era protest song singalongs led by Cyd Slotoroff, a handful of Shoreline organizers, local lawyers, politicians and political representatives, and then protest attendees themselves took the microphone to share their concerns about Trump’s perceived attacks on democratic institutions.
“This investigation must conclude when it is complete,” said Jimmy Tickey, reading a statement from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, for whom he works as campaign manager. “Not when it is expedient for the president. No one is above the law.”
He reminded attendees that DeLauro, who is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the federal legislature’s Appropriations Committee now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, is the co-sponsor of two bills that would limit Trump’s ability to fire Mueller: the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act and the Special Counsel Transparency Act.
“We don’t want to do anything that can jeopardize the Russia investigation,” said Common Cause Connecticut Executive Director Cheri Quickmire. “This is a critical, critical thing going on in our democracy right now. If we let that go and if we let Matthew Whitaker [serve as acting attorney general], he will absolutely do everything he can to make sure that this goes down.”
Local attorney Alex Taubes said that the country’s political system rests on checks and balances. He said Trump’s appointment of Whitaker violates an important check that the independent counsel’s office has played and will play in its investigation of the president’s conduct while running for office.
“All across this state,” he said, “people are coming out because what President Trump did by firing the attorney general, by installing a crony, by installing someone who has not been confirmed by the Senate, by installing someone who is going to do his bidding, we are going to resist. We are going to say, ‘No one is above the law.’ We are going to say, ‘Donald Trump, you cannot violate our Constitution.’”
Blumenthal closed out the rally’s formal lineup of speakers, though the rally would continue further into the evening as various members of the crowd took the microphone and shared their own concerns and calls for protest.
“It is a sign of what is coming,” Blumenthal said about Trump’s firing of Sessions and appointment of Whitaker.
He said that the Trump administration learned something from the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, when on Oct. 20, 1973, then-President Richard Nixon dismissed his attorney general and fired his assistant attorney general for their refusals to fire the independent counsel investigating his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
What the administration has learned, Blumenthal said, is that one should attack Mueller’s independence over time, as opposed to all on one night.
“They’re doing it in slow motion to quell the fears,” he said.
But rest assured, he said: Whitaker has the blueprints and the intention to undermine the Mueller investigation, if given the chance.
Blumenthal said that he will introduce legislation that would stop any cut-off of funds to the independent counsel’s office, and that would require a publicly disclosed report if the special counsel is in any way limited in authority or fired.
He demanded Whitaker’s recusal from overseeing the special counsel investigation, his dismissal from the role of acting attorney general, and an investigation by the House into President Trump’s actions on the campaign trail two years ago.
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch a portion of the rally.