Political News

No. 3 Official at the Justice Department Is Stepping Down

Posted February 9, 2018 5:21 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the country’s top law enforcement agency has been under attack by President Donald Trump, according to two people briefed on her decision.

Brand’s profile had risen in part because she is next in the line of succession behind the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian influence in the 2016 election. Trump, who has called the investigation a witch hunt, has considered firing Rosenstein.

Such a move could have put her in charge of the special counsel and, by extension, left her in the crosshairs of the president.

Brand, who became the associate attorney general in May, is leaving for a job as general counsel in the private sector. She has held politically appointed positions at the Justice Department over the past three presidential administrations.

In her current job, she reports directly to Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump in recent weeks has escalated his criticism of the department for its handling of the inquiry and suggested that top law enforcement officials should face consequences for conduct he called “a disgrace.”

The release last week of a contentious Republican memo that accused the Justice Department and the FBI of political bias raised new questions over whether Trump might seek to oust Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Brand now oversees a wide swath of the Justice Department, including the civil division, the civil rights division and the antitrust division. She helped lead the department’s effort to extend a law that authorizes the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program.

In an op-ed article in The Washington Post, Brand argued that the law “has been valuable and effective in protecting the nation’s security” and that law enforcement officers would be “at risk” without it. Congress voted to extend that law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, last month.

On Friday, Brand hosted a summit meeting at the Justice Department on human trafficking. At that event, Sessions thanked her for her “strong leadership as our third in command at the department.”

But Brand has also become embroiled in the feud between the president and the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Reports that Trump had tried to fire Mueller and had considered firing Rosenstein raised questions of who would replace Rosenstein.

Brand’s assistant, Currie Gunn, has also left the department. Gunn could not be reached for comment.