President Trump suggested Wednesday that he is in no rush to fire either special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or Mueller’s boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of people across the country from planning protests in the event that the president does choose to give Mueller and Rosenstein the boot from the Russian investigation.
One city’s police agency is already preparing for the worst.
Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has ordered its plainclothes detectives to bring full uniform and riot gear to work starting Thursday, “until further notice.”
“We have received information of a potential large scale protest in the Central Business District,” read an internal email from Victor Joseph, commander of major crimes, according to a copy obtained by a WTAE reporter and confirmed by Pittsburgh’s mayor. The email was sent to plainclothes detectives, according to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
“There is a belief that President Trump will soon move to fire Special Prosecutor Mueller,” Joseph’s email continued. “This would result in a large protest within 24 hours of the firing. The protest would be semi-spontaneous and more than likely happen on short notice.”
“We may be needed to assist in the event that there is a large scale protest,” Joseph added in the email.
The memo, which circulated on Twitter, quickly raised questions about what may have spurred the agency’s preparations.
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich clarified in a statement that although authorities received information about potential events, “we have not assessed the credibility of the potential for disturbances, and we do not have any knowledge of the President’s decision-making process.”
“The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police receives information daily that we evaluate and prepare for if the event should occur,” Hissrich said. “Events can include anything from extreme weather to potential demonstrations. Often the events we prepare for do not occur. However, through an abundance of caution, we attempt to adequately prepare for an appropriate response.”
Indeed, plans are in the works for potentially large protests if Trump does fire Mueller. Thousands of people in cities across the country have signed up to participate in “emergency” protests called “Nobody is Above the Law.”
“Donald Trump could be preparing to put himself above the law. We won’t allow it,” the group says on its Web page. “Trump will create a constitutional crisis if he fires special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller, or attempts to compromise the investigation by other means.”
“Our response in the hours following a potential power grab will dictate what happens next — whether Congress will stand up to Trump or allow him to move our democracy toward authoritarianism,” the group says.
In Pittsburgh, more than 2,300 people have registered to participate in a potential rally at the Pittsburgh City-County Building, as of early Thursday. If news were to break about a Mueller firing before 3 p.m. on any given day, the rally would begin at 6 p.m. that day. If the news were to break after 3 p.m., the protest would start at noon the following day.
City officials faced criticism on social media from both sides of the political aisle. Some suggested police were trying to clamp down on protesters or that the Pittsburgh mayor was “scaring his constituents” into thinking Trump will fire Mueller.
Peduto fired back at the “conspiracies” on Twitter, saying the police memo “doesn’t claim to know what the President will do. It doesn’t say people can’t lawfully assemble. It says you may be needed to help, bring your uniform. It is called being prepared.”
“A Commander tells Officers to bring uniforms & it becomes a Constitutional issue,” Peduto also said. “Conspiracy Theories come from the right … and the left.”
Peduto told WTAE that city officials “want to be precautionary, especially on something that is unprecedented in American history.”
Hissrich also clarified to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that he specifically asked detectives who work in the major crimes unit, investigating crimes such as homicides, robberies, burglaries, sexual assaults and narcotics, to bring their uniforms and protective gear to work.
“You can’t have officers out in suit and coat,” Hissrich said. “But part of the uniform is the appropriate gear that they have.”
According to the New York Times, Trump tried to get White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller last June but backed off when McGahn threatened to quit.
Trump has repeatedly said that the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election is part of a “hoax.” He has tweeted that the investigation is “headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter).” And while Trump has considered firing Mueller, many Republicans have urged him not to.
After months of negotiations over a possible bill to protect Mueller from getting fired by Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that such legislation is “unnecessary.”
“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor,” McConnell said. “That’s my responsibility as the majority leader. And we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate.”
Trump on Wednesday said there was “no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia and that “no one has been more transparent” than he in cooperating with the probe.
“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here,” Trump said of Mueller and Rosenstein. “So we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.”
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