WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's third-ranking official plans to step down, as the agency has been the target of withering criticism by President Trump and Republican lawmakers, the department said in a statement late Friday.
Rachel Brand, who only last week was praised for her leadership by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will be leaving the department in the next several weeks for a position in the private sector.
"The men and women of the Department of Justice impress me every day," Brand said in a statement. "I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish over my time here. I want to thank Attorney General Sessions for his leadership ... I've seen firsthand his commitment to the rule of law and to keeping the American people safe."
Sessions called Brand "a lawyer's lawyer" Friday, adding that she had played a critical role in Congress' recent re-authorization of a key section in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"She made this (re-authorization) her top priority and combined her expertise and gravitas to help pass legislation keeping this crucial national security tool," Sessions said. "I know the entire Department of Justice will miss her, but we join together in congratulating her on this new opportunity in the private sector."
An official familiar with the matter who is not authorized to comment publicly said Brand was moving to an executive position with Walmart and that her decision was not believed to be linked to the pressure exerted by Trump and Republican lawmakers.
A widely respected lawyer who had served in Justice Department during President George W. Bush's administration, Brand became the focus of increased attention in recent weeks when Trump stepped up his criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
As the No. 3 Justice official, Brand would have been a likely candidate for Rosenstein's job, if Trump sought his dismissal for his handling of the Russia inquiry.
Brand's departure was first reported Friday by The New York Times.
In her role as associate attorney general, Brand oversaw a broad portfolio, including the Justice Department’s anti-trust, civil rights, tax and civil divisions.
Before her confirmation in May, she served for five years on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an appointee of President Obama. As one of five Senate-confirmed members of the panel, she provided advice and oversight for U.S. counter-terrorism agencies.
Brand previously served as principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, appointed by President George W. Bush. In that position, she managed Justice’s role in selecting federal judges and oversaw the confirmation process for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.
Earlier in the Bush administration, she served as an associate White House counsel.
Last week, with Trump serving up new rebukes of Justice and the FBI prior to the release of a classified Republican memo alleging abuses of government surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide, Sessions singled out Brand at a Justice conference.
“Thank you for your strong leadership here at the department,” Sessions said. “That leadership has been especially strong with regard to fighting human trafficking. I want to thank you for taking up this important cause and making it your own."