Two days after the 2018 mid-term elections, on Thursday, November 8, local Democrats and independents, many tied to the weekly Vigil for Democracy demonstrations in Front Royal against the actions and agenda of President Donald J. Trump, joined people nationwide in demonstrations in support of the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Front Royal was one of over 900 localities where demonstrations dubbed “Nobody is Above the Law – Mueller Protection Rapid Response” formed at 5 p.m. local times across the nation. Here Vigil for Democracy organizer Len Sherp, who has led weekly gatherings in protest of President Trump’s agenda since March 2017, led 25 people and Rusty the dog in a march from the Front Royal Town Gazebo to the South Royal Avenue side of the Warren County Courthouse.
While not permitted on such short notice, Sherp said he had informed town police of the planned demonstration and was told it could proceed as long as public right of ways were not blocked and normal foot or vehicular traffic was not interrupted.
“Hands off the Mueller probe, Trump is not above the law” local demonstrators chanted as they marched with American flags and signs expressing support of the Mueller investigation into foreign meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The group stopped in the shadow of the seat of justice in Front Royal and Warren County to repeat the chant for about 10 minutes to passing motorists on Royal Avenue before marching back down East Main Street to their Town Gazebo staging area. As they had walking westbound and during their stop at the courthouse, they again repeated the “Hands off the Mueller probe” manta eastbound through Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.
We asked Sherp why the demonstrations under the auspices of MoveOn.org were called so soon after Trump forced the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the 2018 mid-term elections.
“We’re here because once again the president has demonstrated he has absolutely no fealty to the law, good government, and doesn’t care about anything except himself,” Sherp replied, adding, “The dismissal of Jeff Session within 24 hours of the results of the election, followed by the appointment of Matthew Whitaker who is completely unqualified for the job – not to mention is a partisan Trump loyalist who’s on record having dispute with some directions of the Mueller investigation; not to mention he laid out a blueprint on CNN on how to suffocate the Mueller investigation.”
The Whitaker blueprint Sherp mentioned was a Justice Department defunding of the Mueller probe.
Sherp said he sees three basic motivations for a long-anticipated Trump move against the attorney general, opening a path against the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling on his behalf during the 2016 campaign.
One is to eliminate the Mueller investigation before a Democratic majority is seated in the U.S. House of Representatives on or about January 6, 2019, with powers to subpoena Trump records and tax returns. Second is to distract from the result of the Tuesday mid-terms which Sherp described as “a repudiation of him as president”. And finally and most pointedly Sherp said, that after a pre-election hold on special counsel investigation actions, a new round of indictments is anticipated – potentially including Trump’s eldest son Donald Junior.
Vanity Fair magazine and The Daily Mail have reported that Donald Trump Jr. has told friends he fears he may soon be indicted for perjury connected to the Trump Tower campaign meeting with Russians. While Trump Junior’s attorney denies his client has made such statements, Vanity Fair has also reported that the president is “very depressed” about the prospect of his eldest son facing indictment for actions related to his campaign.
That depression, Sherp pointed out, could relate to the fact some sources have indicated that the president himself led discussion developing a “Russian adoptions” cover story for his son about the Trump Tower meeting overseen by Donald Junior. The adoptions cover story was allegedly developed during an Air Force One flight back from a European trip. Trump had been overseas when Donald Junior released emails related to setting up the Trump Tower meeting just before The New York Times was poised to release them.
The pre-Trump Tower communications indicated that Donald Junior initially believed information provided by a Russian attorney at the meeting would “incriminate Hillary” to which he replied enthusiastically “if it’s what you say I love it.”
The investigation thus far
Mueller is a former federal prosecutor and was FBI director under two presidents, George W. Bush who appointed him to a 10-year term, and Barack Obama who asked him to stay on until he appointed Comey in 2013.
Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel for the Russian election interference probe by Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein in May 2017. Upon his appointment as special prosecutor, Mueller was lauded from both sides of the political aisle as a man of unblemished integrity. Mueller has also been described as a lifelong Republican.
Mueller’s current appointment came amidst heavy pressure from both sides of the political aisle in the wake of the president’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey. Comey had been overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russian efforts to impact the result of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Comey has stated that prior to his firing, the president asked for an oath of personal loyalty and that the FBI director back off any investigation of his then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Flynn is one of six former Trump aides or appointees who have since pled guilty or been convicted on charges related to the special counsel’s investigation into Russian electoral interference. Thus far Mueller’s investigation has resulted in 35 indictments, 32 against people, 26 of those Russian nationals, including 12 Russian GRU intelligence operatives, as well as 3 Russian companies.
In addition to Flynn (guilty plea), among those convicted or pleading guilty to charges stemming from the special prosecutor’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election include one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (convicted and guilty plea); Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos (guilty plea); Trump campaign aide Rick Gates (guilty plea); Republican operative and lobbyist Sam Patten (guilty plea); and Trump’s long-time personal attorney and so-called “fixer” Michael Cohen (guilty plea).
Most of those entering into plea arrangements with prosecutors are believed to have agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team regarding their knowledge of activities surrounding Russian contacts or information transfers designed to aid the Trump presidential campaign.
‘Big Victory’ or Real Problems?
While the president has publicly claimed a “Big Victory” and “Tremendous success” in the November 6 mid-term election, gains made nationwide by Democrats, particularly in gaining a decisive U.S. House of Representatives majority initially standing at 223-205 with estimates the Democratic majority could rise to as much as 230 seats, spells trouble for the president.
As Sherp noted, it is the U.S. House of Representatives majority party that controls committees with subpoena, not to mention impeachment, powers over the president. And Sherp is far from alone in seeing Trump’s “the day after” forced resignation of Attorney General Sessions and appointment of his avid loyalist Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General as the first step in a presidential effort to kill the Mueller investigation.
After Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Russia probe due to conflicts of interest involving his work for the Trump campaign and his own personal meetings with Russian officials in that capacity, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein inherited creation of and oversight of Mueller’s investigation.
Trump has repeatedly berated Sessions for his recusal, something legal experts say he had no choice but to do. The president’s ire has focused on his top administration law enforcement appointee taking himself out of a position to shield the president from potential legal consequences of the Russian investigation.
Acting Attorney General Whitaker appeared to audition for a job at the Trump Justice Department with television appearances and op-eds during which he termed the special prosecutor’s investigation a “witch hunt” and something that needed to be brought to a halt or defunded to the point it could no longer function. Whittaker also expressed a belief that broadening the Mueller investigation into the president’s personal or business finances would be “a violation” of the special prosecutor’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Now Trump has placed Whitaker in a position to act on those stated beliefs. A question for many is if Whitaker does act to kill or stymie the Mueller investigation will he simply be putting a period on a potential obstruction of justice charge against both himself and the president.
But with administration dominoes being put in place to move against Mueller, citizens across the country are not waiting for the hammer to drop. Like Len Sherp and 25 companions here, they are taking to the streets nationwide to show they will not take interference in or obstruction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe lightly.