Nation

No. 3 official at the Justice Department stepping down

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.
Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press/File 2018
Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.

WASHINGTON - Rachel Brand, the third-highest ranking official at the Justice Department and the first woman to serve as associate attorney general plans to step down, according to a person familiar with her decision - a resignation that comes at a moment of intense political scrutiny for the department, including some harsh criticism from President Donald Trump.

Brand, 44, who has only been in office for nine months, would have been in line to take over the supervision of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s Russia investigation if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the department’s No. 2 official, was fired by Trump or recused himself from the matter.

Brand is leaving the Justice Department for a job as general counsel in the private sector, the person familiar with the decision said. Her departure was first reported by the New York Times.

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The possibility of Brand being thrust into the Russia investigation has increased in recent weeks as Rosenstein has come under political attack from Republicans for supporting the renewal of a surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser.

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After Trump authorized release of a controversial GOP memo on FBI surveillance practices by House Intelligence Committee Republicans, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he was more likely to fire Rosenstein and whether he had confidence in him, Trump replied ‘‘you figure that one out.’’

Last week, Brand headed up an all-day summit on human trafficking at the Justice Department where she told a packed room that ‘‘combatting this evil is one of our top priorities at the Justice Department.’’ She also introduced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in turn praised her leadership abilities.

The daughter and granddaughter of Dutch dairy farmers in Iowa, Brand has been praised for her deep knowledge of the Justice Department. She was previously President George W. Bush’s assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy, which develops and implements the department’s significant policy initiatives.

Brand has one of the department’s more politically challenging jobs, managing the lawyers who litigate civil issues, including Trump’s travel ban as well as civil rights, environmental and antitrust cases.