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Rachel Brand, No. 3 Justice Department official, stepping down amid turmoil

Joseph Tanfani, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The No. 3 official in the Justice Department is resigning to take a job in the private sector, another high-profile departure from a department under relentless pressure from the White House.

Rachel Brand, the associate attorney general, will leave her job after less than nine months to take an unspecified private sector job, the department announced on Friday.

Ordinarily a low-profile position, that job potentially put Brand next in line to oversee the special counsel investigation, after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who has become a target of increasing attacks from right-wing Republicans.

In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called Brand "a lawyer's lawyer" and praised her work in leading the department's work against human trafficking and in publicly campaigning for the renewal of a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows the government to collect information overseas.

A lawyer with a deep conservative legal record, she served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, as a White House lawyer for President George W. Bush and as chief policy adviser for then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She also served as top lawyer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Her record drew some criticism from Senate Democrats and she was confirmed on a straight party line vote.

The departure was first reported by The New York Times.

As head of the department's civil and civil rights divisions, she helped implement policy changes that placed the department on the side of social conservatives, such as a statement saying religious freedoms are a "fundamental right of paramount importance."

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But the work was often overshadowed by the roiling conflicts over the special counsel probe and President Donald Trump's frustrations with the traditional separation between the department and the White House.

"I've seen firsthand his commitment to the rule of law and to keeping the American people safe," Brand said of Sessions, who himself has endured personal attacks for President Trump.

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