Most of the Democrats gathering in front of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club on West 231st Street Thursday afternoon don't serve in Washington, but that didn't stop them from delivering what they say is a very important message to President Donald Trump: Keep your hands off the Robert Mueller investigation.
The gathering took place just a day after Trump asked for the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and appointed who U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel called his "flunky," Matt Whitaker, to the job temporarily. Whitaker, according to published reports, has called for what some have considered severe limitations to the Mueller investigation into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election, and has some fearing he may draw the investigation to a premature end after 18 months.
"On Tuesday, we had an election across the country, and the president lost control of the House of Representatives," said Engel, expected to become the next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "On the very next day, the president announced that he was firing Mr. Sessions and then appointing a flunky who will essentially do anything the president will tell him to do.
"I have news for the president. We are not going to stand idly by, stand idly around, and allow him to destroy our republic. We are not going to allow him to destroy our Constitution. And we're not going to allow him to do the kinds of things that he thinks he can get away with."
Engel made it clear the new Democratic-controlled House will take on the investigations of the 2016 presidential election the old Republican leadership failed to do by making "noise on the House floor."
"We know there was collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign," Engel said. "The question is what kind of collusion, and how much collusion? I want to know that. We all want to know that. The American public has a right to know that."
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who gathered the political leaders in Kingsbridge on a windy day, compared Sessions' firing to the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre" 45 years ago when President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the independent counsel investigating the Watergate scandal. When Richardson refused, Nixon axed him, and then turned to his deputy, William Ruckelshaus.
When Ruckelshaus refused, he too, was fired, and Nixon went to the last man standing — Solicitor General Robert Bork, who followed the president's instruction and fired Cox.
Dinowitz said that was the beginning of the end for the Nixon presidency, and it might be the same for Trump.
"If there's one thing Sessions did right, and it's only one thing he did right, was to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation," Dinowitz said. "Now that's he out, we are concerned that the new Attorney General — who has a very close political relationship with the president, who has publicly expressed his point of view on how to proceed and not to proceed a number of times on TV, probably Fox — will remove Mueller from his position, or will end the investigation.
"We as a community stand united in saying this investigation has to continue, and it has to continue to its conclusion. For better or for worse, the people of this country have a right to know what happened, who's responsible, and appropriate action should be taken."
Nixon's undoing after the Saturday Night Massacre was that his own party turned against him. Engel, however, is not seeing the same happening with Republicans when it comes to Trump. Instead, they're circling the wagons.
"To my Republican colleagues, where are you?" Engel asked. "What is more important, politics? Or the democracy of the United States of America?"
Trump has repeatedly denied his campaign colluded with Russians in 2016, and has publicly blasted the Mueller campaign as a "witch hunt" over the last 18 months. The investigation, however, has resulted in nearly 40 indictments and plea deals with a number of Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, including Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Although Engel stopped short of talking impeachment, the 29-year Congressman did say he wasn't afraid the public would grow weary of the ongoing investigations against Trump.
"I think more so than the public getting tired with the investigations, I think the public is getting tired of the attempts by this president with possible obstruction of justice," Engel said. "I am more tired of watching my democracy teeter and totter because the President of the United States can manipulate things and do what's best for him."