President Donald Trump is not above the law and Congress must protect the investigation into possible wrongdoing by his election campaign, protesters asserted Thursday in downtown Texarkana.
Eleven people gathered in front of the federal courthouse to raise their voices in response to Trump forcing Jeff Sessions to resign his post as attorney general.
"Stand up! Fight back!" the protesters chanted under overcast skies, with rain showers in the forecast.
On Wednesday, Trump requested Sessions' resignation and named Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general. Critics of the administration see Sessions' removal as likely a first step toward shutting down a probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is investigating the campaign's possible cooperation with Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
"We are here today because we believe in the rule of law and we have a president that doesn't. We are here today to say enough is enough. We stand with Americans across the country to confront President Trump's blatant efforts to interfere and shut down the Mueller investigation. We are here to stand up to Donald Trump," organizer Jo Ann Duman read from a prepared statement.
Congress including Rep. Bruce Westerman and Rep. John Ratcliffe—Republicans who represent Texarkana, Ark., and Texarkana, Texas, respectively—must act to defend the independence of the investigation, Duman said. And because Whitaker has made public statements critical of Mueller, he should give up control of the probe.
"Throughout the last two years, President Trump has acted as if he is above the law by repeatedly threatening the rule of law and anyone who tries to hold him accountable. The press, Special Counsel Mueller and we the people have all been attacked by this president.
"Our minimum request is that Matthew Whitaker recuse himself from anything to do with the Mueller investigation. We want Congress, including our own representatives, Ratcliffe and Westerman, to stand up for the rule of law and protect the Mueller investigation," Duman said.
Roxanne Aaron expressed a sense of urgency regarding Trump's actions since he took office.
"I'm here because democracy is fragile, and I'm here because my children and their children need to live in an American democracy, and it's slipping away. I see our side noticing it, but I don't see the right side noticing it because their leaders that they've elected are enabling Trump and staying quiet about all this. I'm worried about the future," Aaron said.
Stephanie Spanhel agreed.
"I think that it's important that we represent," Spanhel said. "If we don't stand up now, we're not going to have anything to stand up for."
The protest was one among many nationwide arranged by a coalition of public-interest organizations, including anti-Trump group Indivisible and liberal hub moveon.org, calling itself the Nobody Is Above the Law network.
Activists have had protest plans in place for months, ready to execute on short notice if Trump ever acted to curtail Mueller's investigation. The weather likely kept many of the 67 people expected to attend from coming, Duman said.
"There are hundreds of groups all across the country, many of them larger than ours. I wouldn't doubt that there may be some smaller," Duman said.
It was important to add her voice, even if the local group was a small one, Cait Barber said.
"I knew that there probably wouldn't be a big crowd, but I figured if I didn't show up, then I was contributing to it not being a big crowd," Barber said.
Gayla Dodd drove 80 miles from her home near Talco, Texas, to attend. She wore a Halloween witch costume to mock Trump's labeling of the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt."
"It just seems to reason to me, if a person is innocent, they will want to do anything and everything they can to prove that they are innocent. If you're innocent, then welcome an investigation. To me that only proves they're hiding something," Dodd said.
Trump's move ended almost two years of tension with Sessions, one of his earliest supporters and most stalwart executors of his policy agenda.
Sessions was among the first prominent Republicans to endorse Trump during the 2016 election campaign, forming a bond that led to his appointment as attorney general. But he fell afoul of Trump by recusing himself from overseeing Mueller's probe because his heavy involvement in the campaign created a conflict of interest. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then took over supervision of the investigation, but Whitaker's appointment Wednesday put him in charge.
Trump has publicly criticized Sessions, who soon after his recusal offered a resignation that Trump did not accept, according to news reports. Trump later considered asking for Sessions' resignation before Tuesday's election, but advisers convinced him not to do so.