Metro

‘America is better than this’: Hundreds protest to protect Mueller probe

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan (cq) is one of the speakers. (Suffolk University student Scott Damon (cq), 21, holds the flag behind her.) People hold a protest to protect the Mueller investigation, on Boston Common, across from the State House.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan (cq) is one of the speakers. (Suffolk University student Scott Damon (cq), 21, holds the flag behind her.) People hold a protest to protect the Mueller investigation, on Boston Common, across from the State House.

Hundreds gathered on Boston Common Thursday night to call for the protection of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

The demonstration came a day after Jeff Sessions was forced out as attorney general and Trump named Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, as his temporary replacement. Whitaker has been critical of Mueller’s investigation, and his appointment has stoked fears that he will end it.

“Our country is on the line,” Myra Slotnick, a rally organizer, told the crowd gathered across the street from the golden-domed State House.

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Nils Enevoldsen of Somerville said he is troubled by Whitaker’s appointment.

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“It seems clear at this point the president appointed Whitaker to the office explicitly because of Whitaker’s published views on how the special counsel’s investigation might be contained,” said Enevoldsen, 32, a research assistant. “That’s why it presents a grave threat.”

The half-hour protest was part of a nationwide campaign called “Protect Mueller” organized by public interest and activists groups across the country on Thursday.

The Boston demonstrators demanded that Whitaker recuse himself from the Russia probe and urged federal lawmakers to act immediately to protect the special counsel’s office. They also called on House and Senate committees to pursue their own investigations, and for political leaders to denounce any threat to the probe.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, one of several public officials invited to the event, called Mueller “an amazing public servant.” She compared the current situation to the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, when President Nixon fired a special prosecutor and accepted the resignations of the attorney general and deputy attorney general.

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She emphasized the importance of a fair and impartial prosecutor.

“We do not allow the target of a criminal investigation to dismiss the prosecutor,” Ryan told the crowd.

Protesters held signs reading: “Putin/Trump Make Russia Great Again,” “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse,” and “Only guilty men fear the truth.” They chanted slogans, including “Enough is enough” and booed mention of Whitaker’s name.

“America is better than this,” said Christina Kalenderian, a 33-year-old writer from Medford. “You’d expect the president of the United States to, you know, follow the rule of law, and he’s clearly flouting that.”

Eileen Ryan, a 58-year-old activist from Watertown, said she was “worried we’re repeating what was happening in Germany in the 1930s.”

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Trump, said Nora Mann, an activist from Arlington, is “running scared.”

“We are facing a continuing assault on our democracy,” she said.

Another speaker, Ron Fein, who is the legal director of the Newton-based Free Speech for People, labeled Whitaker a “Trump loyalist.”

“He’ll have no qualms whatsoever about attempting to undermine Mueller’s investigation,” said Fein.

Ben Clements, an attorney who serves as chairman of Free Speech for People, said Trump forced out Sessions because he wouldn’t protect him from Mueller’s probe. He described the president as lawless and corrupt.

“His most brazen act of obstruction has taken place in the last 24 hours,” Clements said.

Genevieve Howe, of Roslindale, wrote the message, "UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION. It's Your Job!!!" on a sign.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Genevieve Howe, of Roslindale, wrote the message, "UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION. It's Your Job!!!" on a sign.

Joanne Hooker, of Newton, listened to a speaker at the demonstration.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Joanne Hooker, of Newton, listened to a speaker at the demonstration.

People are asked to hold up their lights. A protest to protect the Mueller investigation is held on Boston Common, across from the State House.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
People are asked to hold up their lights. A protest to protect the Mueller investigation is held on Boston Common, across from the State House.

People held aloft their cell phones during the rally.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
People held aloft their cell phones during the rally.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.