WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s third-ranking official plans to step down, as the agency has been the target of withering criticism by President Trump and Republican lawmakers, an official familiar with the matter said Friday.
Rachel Brand, who only last week was praised for her leadership by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will be leaving the department after only nine months, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly.
A widely respected lawyer who has served in Justice Department roles during previous Republican administrations, Brand became the focus of increased attention in recent weeks when Trump stepped up his criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
As the No. 3 Justice official, Brand would have been be a likely candidate for Rosenstein’s job, if Trump sought his dismissal for his handling of the Russia inquiry.
The official familiar with the matter said Brand was moving to a private-sector position and her decision was not believed to be linked to the pressure exerted by Trump and Republican lawmakers.
Brand’s departure was first reported Friday by the New York Times.
In her role as associate attorney general, Brand oversaw a broad portfolio, including the Justice Department’s anti-trust, civil rights, tax and civil divisions.
Before her confirmation in May, she served for five years on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an appointee of President Obama. As one of five Senate-confirmed members of the panel, she provided advice and oversight for U.S. counter-terrorism agencies.
Brand previously served as principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, appointed by President George W. Bush. In that position, she managed Justice’s role in selecting federal judges and oversaw the confirmation process for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.
Earlier in the Bush administration, she served as an associate White House counsel.
Last week, with Trump serving up new rebukes of Justice and the FBI prior to the release of a classified Republican memo alleging abuses of government surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide, Sessions singled out Brand at a Justice conference.
“Thank you for your strong leadership here at the department,” Sessions said. “That leadership has been especially strong with regard to fighting human trafficking. I want to thank you for taking up this important cause and making it your own.”
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