About 100 demonstrators gathered at Courthouse Park in Downtown Fresno Thursday as part of a national movement to support the protection of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The protests came one day after the requested resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. The latest shuffle in President Donald Trump’s administration is seen by many as a threat to the Mueller investigation.
Mueller has been investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the foreign power.
The demonstration was coordinated at a national level by MoveON and Indivisible, politically progressive organizations which facilitate and promote various petitions and demonstrations. It was organized at a local level by the Fresno Women’s Huddle group.
Protesters held signs at the intersection of Tulare and M streets and chanted, “Protect the investigation” and “Trump is not above the law.” People cheered as passing cars.
When it got dark, demonstrators were not deterred. Many pulled out their phones or flashlights to illuminate their signs.
Kiki Wells, one of the organizers of the event and founding member of the Fresno Women’s Huddle, said MoveON had planned a demonstration even before the news of Trump firing Sessions, in the event that Trump tried to interfere in Mueller’s investigation.
“[MoveON] sent out a message all across the country and asked people in every location to be on the ready for rapid response,” Wells said. “At that time, 800 to 700 people signed up for that a year ago.”
After Trump fired Sessions, he appointed long-time ally Whitaker as acting attorney general on Nov. 7. Whitaker will assume oversight of Mueller’s investigation, which had been under the control of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a move many have cited as a conflict of interest.
This crossed the line, and MoveON was ready for it, Wells said.
“That’s a bad road to go down for democracy, when you undermine the judicial system,” Wells said. “The whole idea that he [Trump] is doing this is to subvert the investigation into him.”
James Newcomb, one of the demonstrators in attendance, said the event was meant to demonstrate that the public would not stand for Trump’s staff shuffle.
“Now [Trump] has appointed this guy Whitaker who appears to be just a lackey for him,” Newcomb said. “We’re very concerned that he’s going to undercut Robert Mueller, he’s going to undercut the investigation or somehow discredit it or somehow figure out a way to make it all go away before the Democrats take power in January.”
“You have to show that you’re discontent. You have to show that you’re upset about something,” Newcomb said. “You’re not going to be able to do that just by sitting on your couch and posting online. Not anymore. It’s not going to work anymore.”