Rachel Brand, Justice Department’s #3 Lawyer, Could Become the Most Powerful Woman in Washington

If the deputy attorney general resigns or gets fired, oversight of the Trump-Russia investigation would fall to the Justice Department’s No. 3, Rachel Brand.

For someone on the job barely a month, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand was already facing plenty of incoming fire from her critics. Her big problem now: Her ultimate boss, President Donald Trump, could soon be among them.

Senate Democrats who opposed her nomination to the No. 3 job at the Justice Department said her legal career reflected a tendency always to support Big Business against the little guy, and they questioned her commitment to civil liberties during her years in the department under President George W. Bush. She has a “heavily skewed pro-corporate agenda,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat. The 44-year-old Brand was confirmed to her job on a party-line Senate vote of 52 to 46. Compare that to the overwhelmingly bipartisan 94 to 6 vote for the No. 2 official in the department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

And now, the Michigan-born, Iowa-raised Brand, the daughter and granddaughter of Dutch dairy farmers, faces the prospect of scrutiny—and criticism—on a scale that few Washington officials could ever imagine.

Suddenly under attack himself by Trump, Rosenstein has suggested he is on the verge of recusing himself from supervision of the investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose pursuit of allegations of collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign has apparently enraged the president. On Friday, Trump suggested his relationship with Rosenstein—who named Mueller to the special counsel job—was at a breaking point. “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” Trump tweeted. “Witch Hunt.” The tweet came the morning after Rosenstein released a cryptic statement urging Americans to be skeptical of reports sourced to anonymous officials.

Also on Friday, ABC News reported that Rosenstein, a career prosecutor before joining the Trump administration, has privately conferred with Brand about the possibility that she will need to take over the department’s oversight of Mueller, who took charge of the Trump-Russia investigation when the president fired his successor as FBI director, James Comey. Rosenstein had urged Trump to fire Comey over a separate issue—the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from the investigation, citing his work on the 2016 Trump campaign. Should Rosenstein step aside—or Trump fire him in a fit of pique—Brand is next in line as Mueller’s supervisor. The department had no immediate comment Friday on the prospect that Brand would assume responsibility for the Mueller investigation. But if she gets the assignment and fails to perform as the president sees fit, she might soon also find herself—like Rosenstein and Mueller before her—under siege from Trump’s daily tweetstorms of rage.

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