For Presidents Day, activists in downtown St. Petersburg rallied to criticize congressional Republicans who they say have been silent or actively working to end special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller laid out charges Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in a sweeping indictment describing in detail a years-long effort by Russians to interfere with the U.S. political system.
The indictments confirmed the conclusions of the country’s intelligence community but flew in the face of President Donald Trump‘s questioning of the probe.
In the eyes of some Republicans (like Marco Rubio), the indictments confirmed that Russia did attempt to disrupt the election — and are likely to do so again. Others, like Panhandle Representative Matt Gaetz, have been pushing to fire Mueller. In November, Gaetz introduced a nonbinding resolution calling for the House to endorse Mueller’s dismissal.
“These Republicans see their only role as protecting the president, and not the country,” said Andrea Hildebran Smith with the group FACT (Floridians against Corruption and Treason).
“We call them the ‘Cover-up Caucus’ … We expect members of Congress to use every tool at their disposal to protect this country.”
The liberal activists also are unhappy with Trump for announcing that he will not impose additional sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as well as its aggression in east Ukraine. Congress passed a law last year calling on the president to do so.
“We want protection for this special counsel to finish his investigation,” said Karen Berman with Fired Up Pinellas, who along with MoveOn.org organized Monday’s protest in front of the federal building on First Avenue North in downtown St. Pete.
“We want to see the latest Russian sanctions enforced, and we want to see the state and federal government take steps to protect our elections from any interference,” Berman added.
Over the summer, amid reports that Trump was considering firing Mueller, members of both parties were compelled to introduce legislation to prevent that from happening.
While four bills have been filed in Congress to protect Mueller’s investigation, none will likely go anywhere in the GOP-led House and Senate.
Two bills have been introduced in the Senate, both bipartisan. Sponsored by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, the Special Counsel Integrity Act would only permit the firing of a special counsel in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity or conflict of interest.”
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act that would require an extensive judicial process to do so.
The Act has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past couple of months.
There are similar bills in the House of Representatives, which have a little more support. One, introduced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has 31 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
One Democrat who hopes to make it to Congress later this year is Chris Hunter, a former FBI agent now running in the District 12th Congressional District Democratic primary.
“Our democracy has been compromised, and it will happen again,” he predicted, “because some of our elected officials are running their same type of disinformation campaign against our own country that Russian intelligence services have run.”
Hunter served in the Department of Justice under the administrations of both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.
Not once, Hunter said, did political officials in either of those administrations “purposely set out to destabilize our democratic institutions.”
“Not only has our current president fail to protect our country, the Republican Congress has been complicit in that failure,” he added.
The winner of the Democratic primary in CD 12 will face Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis this November. Bilirakis has not publicly commented on the Mueller investigation, according to statements published on his congressional website over the past year.
As a former FBI agent, Florida Politics asked Hunter what he thought of Gov. Rick Scott‘s comment last week that FBI Director Christopher Wray should resign in the wake of revelations that the bureau ignored a tip last month about Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people after he opened fire on a Parkland school on Valentine’s Day.
“I think it’s disgraceful to politicize the massacre in Parkland,” Hunter said.