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Justice Department's No. 3 official to step down after 9 months

WASHINGTON -- Rachel Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, is stepping down after less than nine months in the job, according to a person familiar with the matter.

As associate attorney general, Brand, 44, was in line to oversee special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russia's role in the 2016 election if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stepped down or was fired. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia probe.

Brand was confirmed by the Senate on May 22 after a Judiciary Committee hearing alongside Rosenstein. She is leaving for an attractive offer in the private sector, according to the person.

Any nominee to replace Brand on a permanent basis would require Senate confirmation. That process would be certain to raise questions from lawmakers about the nominee's willingness to remain independent from the Trump administration once in office, including the ability to withstand any pressure to dismiss the special counsel if asked to do so by the White House.

Brand, a Harvard Law School graduate who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, is a conservative who first served in the department under President George W. Bush. She supervised the department's civil, antitrust and environmental divisions, among others.

--Bloomberg News

As court weighs Microsoft case, rest of world feels a big stake in privacy ruling

WASHINGTON -- Later this month, Supreme Court justices will hear a case involving Microsoft's heated dispute with federal prosecutors over whether it must turn over data currently hosted in a storage facility in Ireland. At the heart of the legal dispute is whether U.S. courts can compel a company to turn over an individual's data when it is held overseas.

The case has drawn intense global interest, including more than a dozen legal briefs to the Supreme Court from abroad, in a sign that some parties believe a ruling may offer a future road map for the internet.

The showdown is unfolding on several fronts. Bills put forth in both chambers of Congress this week would partially resolve disputes over law enforcement access to private data held across borders. The bipartisan bills would obligate service providers in "possession, custody, or control" of data to turn it over to prosecutors under certain conditions regardless of where the material is stored.

Still, some mystery surrounds the legal dispute that will be aired Feb. 27 in Supreme Court chambers. For one, prosecutors have never identified the person who was targeted in a warrant issued by a New York district court judge on Dec. 4, 2013.

"We don't know what the nationality is of the subject. We know that the case is about drugs. But we don't know a lot more than that," said Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a public policy group in Washington.

Prosecutors demanded from Microsoft all emails and information associated with the subject's account, and the Redmond, Wash., tech giant responded that it could not be forced to turn over information stored overseas, in this case at a data center in Dublin, Ireland.

At its heart, the case goes to a conundrum of the modern age: Where does data in "the cloud" actually reside and what sovereign entity should have control?

--McClatchy Washington Bureau

Cardin and Schneider introduce bills to block Trump's military parade

WASHINGTON – Two Democrats in each chamber of Congress are pushing legislation to prevent President Donald Trump's proposed military parade.

Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland both introduced measures on Thursday that would make it difficult for the president's show to go on.

The action comes after the Washington Post reported the president wanted a military parade similar to one he saw in France on Bastille Day.

Schneider's legislation, called the Preparedness Before Parades Act, would prevent any military parades if they negatively affected the military's readiness, according to a news release.

"The best way to honor our men and women in uniform is by supplying the training, equipment, and support they need to succeed on the battlefield and get them back home safely," he said. "This bill ensures our military leaders are consulted and that any parades do not distract from their critical missions."

Cardin introduced partner legislation in the Senate and urged colleagues in a letter to oppose parades as well.

"Not only will this bill prevent grand-scale parades as a 'show of force,' but it would also limit the impact of national military parades will have on military readiness," his letter said.

--Sponsored Video--

Cardin said he offered a similar amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Bill but it was rejected.

"We have the best armed forces in the world. We don't need to flex our muscle to showcase our military hardware," Cardin said in a tweet.

--CQ Roll Call

Severe cases in flu epidemic continue to rise, health officials say

ATLANTA -- Despite hopes the nation would see the flu epidemic drop off by now, the number of severe cases only continues to increase, U.S. health officials said in a somber telephone conference Friday.

And they don't know when it will end.

One in 10 American deaths last week came from influenza or pneumonia, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We were hoping to have better news today," Shuchat said. "Overall hospitalizations are now significantly higher than what we've seen since current tracking began" in 2010.

Dr. Gabriel Onofre, who works at the Mercy Care clinic for the poor in Chamblee, Ga., said through a spokeswoman that his clinic was awash in adults coming in with flu.

"One man who we vaccinated came a week or so later and tested positive for influenza -- a different strain," Onofre said. "Another man came in with flulike symptoms and collapsed at our front door." The clinic immediately sent him to the hospital in an ambulance.

Although this year's flu vaccine is far from perfect, experts urge people to get it if they haven't yet. It missed the most important strain. But it can prevent deadly secondary infections of additional strains that pile on when an already weakened patient is attacked by a flu they normally would be able to fend off.

The flu is always dangerous for the elderly and small children. But this year, many hospitalized patients have been between the ages of 18 and 49.

The illness remains widespread in all states but Hawaii and Oregon.

--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mexico nabs a top cartel boss in a trendy Mexico City neighborhood

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities have arrested the alleged leader of the Zetas drug cartel -- long one of the country's most powerful and notoriously brutal criminal groups.

Jose Maria Guizar Valencia, who is accused of overseeing an organization that traffics thousands of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States each year, was nabbed Thursday while entering a hotel in a fashionable neighborhood in Mexico City, authorities said Friday.

Mexican National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said in a statement that Guizar, 38, was captured without force.

In a nation gripped by escalating violence driven by warring criminal groups, Guizar was one of Mexico's most-wanted men. The United States had offered a $5 million reward for his arrest and had formally requested his extradition. Sales said there are arrest warrants for Guizar in several U.S. states for crimes including arms smuggling, kidnapping and murder.

His capture was celebrated by public officials from both sides of the border, with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson tweeting that Guizar's arrest and other law enforcement efforts "make Mexico and the United States safer."

But others reacted with caution, noting that in the past, Mexico's "kingpin strategy" of targeting cartel leaders has not reduced violence, and in fact may have increased it.

--Los Angeles Times

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