Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 attorney at the Justice Department as Associate Attorney General, has resigned her position.
What makes the surprise resignation even more interesting: It was previously thought that she could end up overseeing the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Donald Trump campaign if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to recuse himself for his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey (or if Rosenstein were fired).
The 44-year-old Brand was finally sworn in on May 22. During the previous Republican administration, she was an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy for President George W. Bush. Brand, who grew up in Iowa, also served on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board under President Obama and was Chief Counsel for Regulatory Litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Brand is married to Jonathan Cohn and has two children. She attended the University of Minnesota Morris and Harvard Law School.
Here’s what you need to know about Brand.
1. Brand Would Have Overseen the Russia Investigation If Rod Rosenstein Had to Recuse Himself or Was Fired
According to The New York Times, Brand “is leaving for a job as general counsel in the private sector. She has held politically appointed positions at the Justice Department over the past three presidential administrations.” The Times reports that Brand “has also become embroiled in the feud between the president and the nation’s law enforcement agencies,” although it’s unclear whether that tension played any role in her decision to leave the government position.
President Trump’s tweet that confirmed he’s under investigation could mean that Rosenstein would have to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. The Washington Post has reported that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation now includes looking into whether or not Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
At first, the administration said Trump only fired Comey after Rosenstein wrote a memo recommending it. But Trump then told NBC News that he was thinking about firing Comey over the Russia investigation before. Then, the June 16 tweet appeared to go back to the original story. “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director,” Trump wrote.
This means, as Bloomberg points out, that Rosenstein could be called as a witness in Mueller’s investigation and he’d therefore have to recuse himself from overseeing it. Trump could also chose to fire Rosenstein, since he was the one who hired Mueller as special counsel. That would leave Brand to replace Rosenstein.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions already had to recuse himself since he had a role in Trump’s campaign and had meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
2. Brand Was Only Sworn-In After the Senate’s Party-Line Vote Approved Her
President Donald Trump nominated Brand to serve as the first woman in the Justice Department’s No. 3 role back in January. However, she wasn’t confirmed by the Senate until May 18. She has been involved in other controversies. “She helped lead the department’s effort to extend a law that authorizes the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program,” The New York Times reported.
As The Washington Examiner notes, the Senate voted 52-46, with not a single Democrat voting for her confirmation. In April, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved the nomination in a party-line vote, 11-9. By comparison, Rosenstein was confirmed in April in a 94-6 vote.
Back in March, Rosenstein and Brand appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee together. Notably, in that testimony, Band was asked if she had respect for the people in the Justice Department that preceded the Trump Administration and her thoughts on partisan hiring.
“I have a great deal of respect for the lawyers in the Department of Justice,” she said. I think discrimination on the basis of religion in hiring is illegal, anywhere. With respect to the impact of partisanship on hiring, we have the Civil Service Protection laws which govern the Department of Justice and I think it’s very important that everybody who is in a hiring capacity understands what the rules are.”
3. She Clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy & Helped John Roberts & Samuel Alito Prepare for Confirmation Hearings
After graduating from Harvard, Brand clerked for Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Charles Fried and then Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was put on the Court by Trump, also clerked for Kennedy early in his career.
When she was just 27 years old, President George W. Bush and future Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales put Brand on the White House Counsel team, The Post reported at the time. Then, in 2005, she joined the Justice Department as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy.
During her time in the Bush administration, she also helped prepare Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito for their confirmation hearings.
Harvard Law Today notes that Brand was in Tallahassee, Florida during the Bush v. Gore recount in 2000, which got her the job in the White House. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she helped draft the executive order that created the Office of Homeland Security.
“It was an amazing change in mindset from the day before 9/11 to after,” Brand told Harvard Law Today in 2013.
4. Democrats Accused Brand of Having a ‘Pro-Corporate’ Agenda
In 2011, Brand became the chief counsel for regulatory litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Litigation Center. It’s her role there that Democrats targeted during her confirmation hearing, notes the Washington Post.
In his statement on Brand’s nomination, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said she has “a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence” and noted that she “has long championed deregulation and the rolling back of vital environmental, consumer, and labor regulations protecting the American people.”
The National Law Journal notes that Brand spent much of her time at the Chamber of Commerce fighting Obama recess appointments and challenged an Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule forcing companies to disclose the use of minerals from war-torn countries.
“As a lawyer I have spent some of my career in private practice representing clients,” Brand said during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’ve of course spent more of my careers in public service of one type or another. But, just as when I was at a law firm, when I was at the Chamber of Commerce I had a client, the Chamber of Commerce and, as a litigator there, my job was to file lawsuits and file amicus briefs on behalf of that client.”
Brand’s work on corporate interests and environment regulations might have helped her get the job at the Justice Department. Her job as Associate Attorney General includes oversight of all these departments:
- Antitrust Division
- Civil Division
- Civil Rights Division
- Environment and Natural Resources Division
- Tax Division
- Executive Office for U.S. Trustees
- Office of Justice Programs
- Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)
- Office on Violence Against Women
- Community Relations Service
- Office of Access to Justice
- Office of Information Policy
- Foreign Claims Settlement Commission
- Service members and Veterans Initiative
5. Brand Grew Up in Iowa as the Daughter of Dutch Dairy Farmers
Brand has a unique family background. Although she was born in Muskegon, Michigan, she was raised in a small town in Iowa, notes the Washington Post. Her parents and grandparents are Dutch dairy farmers and she has three siblings. She even embraced her Dutch roots seven years ago by attending a Tulip festival and wearing wooden shoes.
The Journal Express reports that Brand attended Pella Christian High School and was busy with extracurricular activities. She played sports, edited the yearbook, acted in the senior class play and played in the band. She even wrote a “Senior Will and Testament” for the yearbook.
“It’s a a neat thing to see students get involved in the political world, getting involved in areas of authority and making decisions,” Larry Eggink, a classmate and now Vice Principal at PCHS, told the Journal Express. “As a Christian young lady she certainly can have an influence there in a very positive way. I think she’ll do well.”
Brand is married to fellow Harvard Law School grad Jonathan Cohn and they have four children.
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