Around 250 demonstrators gathered in front of Eugene’s Wayne L. Morse federal courthouse on Thursday evening to protest President Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Eugene’s rally was one of more than 900 that were organized across the country by Nobody is Above the Law, a website hosted by the political action committee MoveOn.org Civic Action. The group had a list of events that would trigger a protest, such as firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the Russia investigation, or pardoning witnesses in the investigation.
Zane Eddy, a 21-year-old from Junction City who attended the protest, said that he knew he needed to become involved if he determined that the investigation was in jeopardy. Eddy said that if Trump were to limit what Mueller could investigate, he would see that as “crossing a line.”
“I decided that if or when the investigation is in danger, that’s when I need to take action myself,” he said. “Our intelligence agencies have made it pretty clear there was tampering with our elections, and I think we need to figure out the extent to which that is the case.”
MoveOn.org described Sessions’ firing as “one step short of the break glass moment.”
Sessions was the head of the Justice Department and frequently received public criticism and shaming from the president. The primary cause of the conflict between them was Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation because of his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
On many occasions, Trump has referred to the special counsel’s investigation as a “Witch Hunt” spearheaded by “17 Angry Democrats.” According to NBC News, Trump’s “Angry Democrats” reference is aimed at Justice Department officials who work with Mueller and donated to Democrats in the past, despite the fact that Mueller and other high profile Justice Department figures involved in the inquiry are Republicans.
“We’re probably more partisan than we’ve ever been. Everyone is stubborn enough to stick with their party lines,” said Lindsey Nichols, a University of Oregon graduate student from Texas who is studying prevention science. “There are checks and balances for a reason and if that goes to shit, I don’t know what to do from there.”
The move to fire Sessions does not necessarily come as a surprise — media coverage in the past month indicated that Trump would more than likely fire Sessions after the midterm elections due to his decision to recuse himself from the investigation.
Following Sessions’ recusal, oversight of the special counsel investigation was given to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Many questioned how long Rosenstein would last at the Justice Department after the New York Times reported in September that he discussed recording the president without his knowledge and invoking the 25th Amendment — a Constitutional provision that allows for a president to be removed from office if the Vice President and a majority of Congress determine that they are unfit to serve.
Wednesday’s firing of Sessions means that Rosenstein is no longer overseeing the investigation, which is a cause for concern among Democrats due to the past statements of now acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.
Whitaker, who was Sessions’ chief of staff and a former United States Attorney from Iowa, has criticized the special counsel investigation in the past, writing in a CNN op-ed last summer that Mueller would be exceeding his boundaries if he were to investigate the president’s finances.
“If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt,” Whitaker wrote.
Whitaker’s appointment didn’t only concern Congressional Democrats, but protestors as well. Eugene resident Gary Plouff said that he was afraid the country would never see the end results of the special counsel’s inquiry.
“When I heard that Sessions was fired and Trump put in a puppet, Whitaker, who is a mouthpiece of Trump who has said several times that he wants to close the Mueller investigation down," Plouff said. "I became really upset and frightened for this country and the fact that this investigation could be closed down and the truth never come out.”
Whitaker also proposed cutting funding for the special counsel investigation, which would effectively starve it of resources and force the investigation to stop. Eddy says that the special counsel investigation must be seen through until the end.
“If Mueller was straight up fired, there would be protests in the street, it would be mass revolution,” Eddy said. “Having it slowly be defunded and go away and never have anything come to light, that’s a slow death we can’t allow.”