Ferndale — Oakland county residents joined a nationwide protest Thursday to call for the protection of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between Russia and President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
More than 200 protesters gathered in the parking lot of Ferndale's City Hall chanting “No one is above the law.” Some were wrapped in American flags and holding signs that said: “Protect Muller, Protect Democracy” and “Dump Trump.”
The rallies come a day after Trump replaced embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, in a move critics say could impede or even end the Russia investigation.
“Trump has made it clear that he believes he is above the law,” said Kevin Deegan-Krause, a political science professor at Wayne State University and one of the organizers of the event. “The new acting attorney general has publicly expressed his opposition to Mueller's investigation and has many tools for undermining it completely over the coming year."
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 by the Justice Department to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Protesters called on Congress to take legislative action to ensure Mueller will continue as special counsel to complete his investigation. Democrat Andy Levin, who won his father's U.S. House seat on Tuesday, told the crowd that he is pushing a new, bipartisan bill in response to Trump's appointment of Whitaker.
"I have complete confidence in Bob Mueller. We respect the investigation and want it to take its course," Levin said. "That’s why we have a bipartisan bill protecting funding for the investigation and protects that Muller can’t be fired on just cause."
Whitaker has openly criticized the Russia investigation. A former U.S. attorney whose criticisms of Mueller have echoed the president’s, Whitaker will remain until Trump nominates someone who would need Senate confirmation. National organizers of the rallies say the naming of Whitaker is a “deliberate attempt to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.”
Trump never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia probe that Mueller runs, and the president delivered on a long-festering frustration a day after the midterm elections were over.
Levin compared Trump's actions to a "slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre," a reference Saturday, October 20, 1973, when President Richard Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus during the Watergate scandal.
"It didn't happen on Saturday because we had an election on Tuesday," Levin said, referring to the firing. "He didn't have the guts to fire him before the election. Jeff Sessions has got to be one of the worst attorney general’s of all time ... he was horrible, but he recused himself. Matt Whitaker is a political appointee that is chief of staff, not confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which may be the first in our history."
After the rally, protesters stood alongside Woodward Avenue with signs in protest.
Deegan-Krause said similar demonstrations with 600 people in Troy and 1,600 in Ann Arbor also were held. Hundreds of other cities were slated to holding rallies Thursday, including New York City; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Orlando; Chicago; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Shine Caramia of Lathrup Village said she was at the rally because she “hopes there’s still a democracy” when her 8-year-old daughter, Lucia, can vote.
“I’ve been having panic attacks more often just watching the news, and I need it to stop,” said Caramia, 35. “When he removed the cameras from the press room and then tried to say they were promoting transparency in the White House, (it) was just as scary as it could get.”
Caramia was referring to Trump barring media from an off-camera press briefing, calling some media outlets "enemy of the people" in 2017.
Tanya Bell of Royal Oak said she was never politically involved until Trump was elected. Since then, she has traveled to Washington to join the Women’s March, volunteered at polling precincts and joined multiple committees.
“We cannot stand by and let democracy die,” said Bell, 55. “The lies did it for me. Saying we’re being invaded by the caravan when people are seeking refuge ... it isn’t an invasion. We have a predator as a president, and almost any action he takes calls for protest, including firing someone who doesn’t agree with him.
"It's exhausting but we have to put the pedal to the metal and keep pushing for change."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.