Walla Walla activists took to the streets Thursday in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation Wednesday at the president’s request.
About 50 locals representing the “Nobody Is Above the Law” network gathered at 5 p.m. on the corner of First Avenue and Main Street holding signs in a peaceful protest.
This international network, a coalition of progressive groups such as Stand Up America, formed almost a year ago in case something like this took place, organizers said. They said Sessions’ forced resignation puts at risk special counsel Robert Mueller’s job of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Matthew Whitaker is now in charge of that investigation and can’t be trusted, ralliers said, because Whitaker has been openly critical of Mueller.
The 900 or so “Nobody Is Above the Law” groups formulated a “Mueller Firing Rapid Response,” which included “Red Lines,” that, if crossed by Trump, would lead to protests. With Sessions’ firing, they planned to demand “any new attorney general protect the investigation, and that Congress pass the Mueller protection legislation,” according to its network website.
Local organizer and former Walla Walla County Democrats Chairman Steve Schmidt said he’d forgotten he signed up six months ago to lead the local protest until group members began contacting him last night about the Washington, D.C., happenings.
“We just want Mueller to continue to be allowed to do the investigation,” Schmidt said. “I’d trust a Medal of Honor winner and a lifetime FBI employee.”
Schmidt, who said he’s actively protested issues since the Vietnam War, said the group’s dissent was purposeful.
“Because we don’t support the president forcing Sessions to resign and putting in a man who’s been talking on right-wing television,” Schmidt said.
The group’s website announced its goal is “to create an opportunity for anyone outraged by Trump’s abuse of power to engage immediately in voicing their concern.” Next steps included demands, such as that Congress protect the special counsel’s office and the creation of a modern-day Senate Select Watergate Committee, the site said.
Local rallier Chris Nelson voiced his opinion.
“My concern has been that the president would fire Robert Mueller or otherwise impede his investigation before it is complete,” Nelson said. “Although his ‘firing’ Jeff Sessions was not a surprise, appointing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general is problematic ... Whitaker has publicly been critical of the investigation and even speculated about ways of killing it or grinding it to a halt.”
Nelson added he’d heard of the network awhile ago and learned of yesterday’s demonstration via social media and friends. He said he wanted Whitaker to recuse himself from investigation oversight.
“Having expressed strong partisan positions, he should leave the investigation under Rosenstein’s oversight and let it proceed independently,” Nelson said. “The integrity of the Department of Justice and our rule of law depends on that independence and thoroughness to answer all questions and remove any doubts of impartiality.”
There was another reason for the protest, resident Larry Whittle said.
“We’re also celebrating the majority of the voters now have control over the government,” Whittle said of the House now filled with mostly democrats. “We, the people, won.”
Schmidt said he “had no idea” what would happen as a result of the protest, but believed “in freedom of speech.” He said he and other coalition members already had written to their congressional representatives.
“We’re on a first-name basis,” he said of his relationship with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane. “We’ll (the group) write to anyone that’ll listen.”
Steps following the protest locally were unclear, Schmidt said.
“We’ll see what happens.”