Students join protests to protect the Mueller investigation

Students protested at the Arizona State Capital as part of a widespread effort to protect the special investigation

Activists took to the Arizona State Capitol building on Nov. 8 to protest the appointment of Michael Whitaker after the resignation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General last week.

Whitaker is a vocal proponent of President Donald Trump and a vocal skeptic of the ongoing special counsel investigation of interference in the 2016 election.

Special council Robert Mueller was tasked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in 2017 to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible links with the Trump campaign. 

The investigation has led to indictments and guilty pleas from several individuals in the Trump orbit.

Several ASU students joined the crowds at the Capitol to raise awareness of how they feel Trump's move to appoint Whitaker imperils Mueller's investigation. 

Brad Peterson, a sophomore majoring in innovation in society, said some are concerns that Whitaker will interfere with or end Mueller’s investigation based on comments he has made in the past. 

In August 2017, Whitaker criticized Mueller's investigation in an op-ed to CNN

“We’re coming here because we believe Mueller’s investigation is very important,” Peterson said. “(Whitaker) said that he wants to defund it, and we’re not okay with that.”

The rally, held by the progressive grassroots organization Move On, occurred as part of the Mueller Protection Rapid Response, a series of protests planned by a network of activists in case Trump interferes in the Mueller investigation. 

Justin Schicker, a freshman studying secondary education with a focus in English, said he learned about the rally from the Mueller Protection Rapid Response.

At one point during the rally, Schicker spoke into a bullhorn about protecting the investigation. He said that if Whitaker doesn't recuse himself from overseeing Mueller's investigation, the newly Democratic House should take drastic measures.

“Either we call for the recusal of acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, or we demand that Congress file the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump," Schicker said.

Paul Bender, an ASU law professor and expert in constitutional law, said whoever the acting attorney general has the power to impede Mueller's investigation.

"The important things the special counsel does, like deciding to indict somebody or making a decision to investigate an area ... those things have to be shared with or approved by the Attorney General," Bender said.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake called to pass a bill in the Senate on Nov. 14 to protect Mueller and his investigation. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped the bill from moving to a vote, and Flake responded by saying he would hold up judicial nomination in the Senate if there is not a full vote for the bill.

Bender said Whitaker's appointment is illegal due to a federal statute regarding succession within the Department of Justice. 

"There’s a statute that I think makes it pretty clear that in a situation when the attorney general suddenly leaves, the deputy is to take over," Bender said. 

The statute in question is 28 USC § 508, which states that in the event of a vacancy in the office of Attorney General, the next in line is the Deputy Attorney General, followed by the Associate Attorney General.  

Despite this, Bender said Whitaker will likely not take direct action to squash Mueller's investigation.

"I think (Whitaker) will realize that if he does (interfere), Mueller will challenge him," Bender said. "If he tries to limit Mueller’s investigation or cut off the funds or something like that, I would think Mueller would object and Mueller would win."

 Reach the reporter at and follow @kiaraquaranta on Twitter. 

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