The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.
“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.
.. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.
.. Even though he was previously aware of some of the allegations facing his staff secretary, Kelly’s allies say he didn’t fully understand the severity of the issue until he saw photographs of one of Porter’s ex-wives with a bruised eye. White House aides also assert that Kelly and other top officials felt misled by Porter’s own defense against the allegations.
Brand, 44, who has only been in her Senate-confirmed position for nine months, would have been in line to take over the supervision of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation if Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the department’s No. 2 official, was fired by Trump or recused himself from the matter.
.. Brand is leaving the Justice Department for a top legal job at Walmart
.. When Trump was asked by a reporter whether he was then more likely to fire Rosenstein and whether he had confidence in him, Trump replied, “You figure that one out.”
.. With Brand’s departure, Solicitor General Noel Francisco is next in line at the Justice Department to oversee the Russia investigation after Rosenstein.
.. The news that Brand is leaving came as a surprise to many people who know her. The Federalist Society just announced Friday that Brand is scheduled to speak next week at a Washington chapter lunch... Brand has one of the department’s more politically challenging jobs, managing the lawyers who litigate civil issues, including Trump’s travel ban as well as civil rights, environmental and antitrust cases.
President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.
.. the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two of the people said.
First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.
After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said.
.. Mr. McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency.
.. Mr. McGahn, a longtime Republican campaign finance lawyer in Washington who served on the Federal Election Commission, was the top lawyer on Mr. Trump’s campaign. He has been involved in nearly every key decision Mr. Trump has made — like the firing of the former F.B.I. director
.. Around the time Mr. Trump wanted to fire Mr. Mueller, the president’s legal team, led then by his longtime personal lawyer in New York, Marc E. Kasowitz, was taking an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. The president’s lawyers were digging into potential conflict-of-interest issues for Mr. Mueller and his team
.. Another option that Mr. Trump considered in discussions with his advisers was dismissing the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and elevating the department’s No. 3 official, Rachel Brand
.. Nonetheless, Mr. Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mr. Mueller, whose job security is an omnipresent concern among the president’s legal team and close aides. The president’s lawyers, including Mr. Cobb, have tried to keep Mr. Trump calm by assuring him for months, amid new revelations about the inquiry, that it is close to ending.
.. In March, after Mr. McGahn failed to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the inquiry, Mr. Trump complained that he needed someone loyal to oversee the Justice Department.
.. in July, the president pointedly kept open the option of firing Mr. Mueller, saying that the special counsel would be passing a “red line” if his investigation expanded to look at Mr. Trump’s finances.
That has legal experts closely examining the dry executive order to figure out who might be next up to bat, or, as Democratic lawyers and consultants view it, who might serve as Trump’s next sacrificial lamb.
.. “We know Rachel Brand is the next victim,”
.. “For those of us who have high confidence in Rachel — the more confidence you have in someone in this role, the less long you think they’ll last,”
.. Typically, the solicitor general would be next in line after the associate attorney general, followed by the list of five assistant U.S. attorneys, the order of which would be determined by the attorney general. But none of those individuals have been confirmed by the Senate, and they would be unable to serve as acting attorney general without Senate confirmation.
.. Because of that, the executive order comes into play — one that puts next in line after Brand the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dana Boente.
- .. Boente, who was briefly thrust into the no. 2 spot at the Justice Department after Yates was fired, was also tasked with phoning Preet Bharara, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to deliver the unexpected news that he was fired. At the time, Boente also vowed to defend Trump’s travel ban in the future.
- .. Eastern District of North Carolina, John Stuart Bruce; and the U.S. attorney for the
- Northern District of Texas, John Parker.
.. Trump’s desire to rid himself of Mueller, at potentially any cost
.. The president, who friends said does not enjoy living in Washington and is strained by the demanding hours of the job, is motivated to carry on because he “doesn’t want to go down in history as a guy who tried and failed,” said the adviser. “He doesn’t want to be the second president in history to resign.”