No one wants to be in Rod Rosenstein's shoes

A top Justice Department official — a Trump nominee — may have left to avoid leading the Russia probe

Published February 13, 2018 8:38AM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Fearing that she would soon become tasked with leading the ongoing Russia investigation and thrust into a highly intense spotlight, the Justice Department's No. 3 attorney announced she was stepping down.

The reasons behind Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand's departure from her post have now been made clear, as multiple sources close to her have said she'd been unhappy for many months with vacancies at the agency, NBC News reported. But Brand also didn't want to be in charge of overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties with the Russian government.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe because he failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took over. But Republicans and President Donald Trump's administration have grown increasingly frustrated with the investigation and have attempted to derail it, specifically in one instance with a memo authored by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Rosenstein's future at the department has been murky, and it's not clear if he would be fired by a president furious with an investigation that has heavily weighed on his presidency. Brand felt that there was a good chance she would soon be in the same position and could become the prime subject of an unwanted spotlight of criticism from all sides.

The Justice Department pushed back on the idea that Brand's departure stemmed from fears over handling the Russia probe, calling it "ridiculous."

"It is clear these anonymous sources have never met Rachel Brand let alone know her thinking. All of this is false and frankly ridiculous," a Justice Department spokeswoman told NBC.

Brand's reasons behind leaving the department highlight just how toxic the political climate has become surrounding the Russia investigation. Last week, when Trump was asked if he still had confidence in Rosenstein, he cryptically said, "You figure that one out."

Brand has had a lengthy legal career and worked under both former President George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama. But the move also highlights the peculiar situation the president has put Republicans in, especially Republican careerists like Brand. For example, Rosenstein is a Republican, and so is FBI Director Chris Wray and even Mueller.

The White House requested $10 million for the Mueller investigation in its budget proposal.

By Charlie May

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