Protesters and counter-protesters gather on Pentacrest in wake of Jeff Sessions firing

Protesters gathered on the steps of the Pentacrest on Wednesday night in the aftermath of Jeff Sessions removal from the Attorney General’s office.


Katina Zentz

Attendees chant during the “Trump is not above the law” rally at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. The protest was organized in reaction to the Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

Protesters took to the Pentacrest Thursday to stand against the President Trump’s recent moves to shakeup the U.S. Justice Department, gathering to send the message that “nobody’s above the law.”

The protest on the University of Iowa campus comes after Trump asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign on Wednesday. Rally attendees said they interpreted the firing to be a precursor to the dismissal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

MoveOn, a progressive group that advocates for social justice and political progress, organized the event.

Former University of Iowa football player and Ankeny native Matthew Whitaker was appointed as the acting U.S. attorney general following Sessions’ resignation.

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Whitaker, a Republican Party affiliate, formerly worked in the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

Organizers led protesters in a number of chants from the steps of the Old Capitol building. Chants included “Wake up Congress, do your job,” “Conclusion? Collusion!” and “Protect our journalists.”

Protesters hoisted signs with slogans such as “Not my President,” “Law & Order U.S.A.” and “Protect Mueller.”

UI student Emily Legel handed out poster board and permanent markers to fellow protesters so that they could make their own signs.

“A friend of mine helped organize it, and I decided to show up because I support protecting our democracy,” Legel said.

Despite the opposition from some Iowa City community members, Iowa’s Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst iterated their gratitude for Sessions’ service and support for Whitaker’s appointment in statements released Thursday.

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Grassley said Whitaker is an Iowan he’s known for many years who will “work hard and make us proud,” adding that the Justice Department is “in good hands” during the transition.

Ernst added, “Fellow Iowan Matt Whitaker is a man of integrity and values. As Acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker is a steady hand that will provide good leadership and judgment, and will ensure that the United States Department of Justice upholds the highest standards of the rule of law.”

A small number of counter-protesters also attended. Counter-protester Devin Lynch held a sign that read “JOBS NOT MOBS. What are you protesting?” and said he was there to add levity to the situation.

“I’m with a couple groups on campus that just told us this was going on, so we decided to come out and make some signs, try to add a little bit of humor,” Lynch said.

Lynch also noted that he, like many of the protesters, was opposed to Sessions’ initial appointment.

“I absolutely don’t support Jeff Sessions. I think that was kind of the consensus among people on the left, too,” Lynch said. “Now that he’s being replaced by somebody that could be better who was a former Hawkeye, who played football here, who’s only been here for a day, we don’t know how he’ll do, and they’re already protesting a new person. They’re saying that he’ll inevitably be worse than Jeff Sessions, but how could they possibly know that?”