No. 3 Justice Department Official Stepping Down Amid Turmoil

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After Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the third-highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice, abruptly resigned on Friday, professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law Steve Vladeck anxious about President Donald Trump further attempting to obstruct justice in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The Justice Department has yet to comment on her resignation, or who could take her place.

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is leaving the DOJ for the top legal job at Walmart, a on the department's website confirmed Friday. The official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump.

In a statement, Brand defended her department, saying, "The men and women of the Department of Justice impress me every day".

Brand on Friday lauded Sessions' "commitment to the rule of law".

Brand became an associate attorney general in May. If Rosenstein had been fired or quit, oversight would have fallen to Brand.

Sessions applauded Brand for her service to the DOJ, calling her "a lawyer's lawyer".

Brand attracted interest because of her potential to assume a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation.

The New York Times first reported the news of Brand's departure.

Trump's broadsides have strained morale at the institution, which has always been praised for its independence from the White House.

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

"The premise of the Nunes memo is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and DOJ corruptly sought a FISA warrant [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process", the Democrats said in a statement. That job would now fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, in such a scenario.

Brand will apparently become Walmart's head of global corporate governance, which includes legal and policy responsibilities.

Brand has kept a very low profile at the department, but in December she wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post defending the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the National Security Agency to collect foreign intelligence on US soil without individualized warrants.

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 played a crucial role in helping push for Congress to reauthorize the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program after it faced opposition from some privacy-minded lawmakers in both parties.

She has also been vocal about the department's efforts to support students who say their free speech rights are being violated on college campuses.

'She felt this was an opportunity she couldn't turn down, ' Gorelick told the Associated Press.

Other sources said Brand has chafed for months at the limits of her post at DOJ.

Brand graduated from Pella Christian High School in 1991. 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.