White House lurches into crisis mode, again

Chief of staff John Kelly was forced to publicly insist he’s remaining in his job as he tried for a fourth day to contain the damage following allegations that a senior aide abused two ex-wives. 

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.

Third-highest ranking official at the Justice Department stepping down

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.

Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit

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.

Trump threatens to break the glass on DOJ succession plan

The little-noticed document is usually only applicable in the event of an attack or crisis.

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.

  1. .. 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.
  2. .. Eastern District of North Carolina, John Stuart Bruce; and the U.S. attorney for the
  3. 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.”

 

The Obscure Lawyer Who Might 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.

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

.. Brand was confirmed to her job on a party-line Senate vote of 52 to 46.

.. Rosenstein .. has privately conferred with Brand about the possibility that she will need to take over the department’s oversight of Mueller

.. She was active in the Federalist Society, the conservative lawyer’s group that has long been a talent pool for anyone interested in serving in the administration of a Republican president or on the Supreme Court.

.. hired as a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

.. In 2011, Brand became a top lawyer for the United States Chamber of Commerce

.. “If you hire a lawyer, they are going to represent your view. We can’t assume an attorney personally believes in what they are advocating on behalf of their clients. Just ask criminal defense lawyers.”

.. she might now be confronting the “tough task of insulating the investigation from the erratic and inappropriate behavior of President Trump.”

.. Rosenstein might welcome turning over the responsibilities to Brand because it would take him out of the immediate line of fire

Why Trump Attacked His Own Deputy Attorney General

Rod’s reputation, which he’s earned, is that he does things by the book.”

.. According to senators, Rosenstein later testified in a closed-door briefing that he knew before he wrote the memo that Trump would fire Comey.

.. Democrats and many lawyers in Washington who had a high opinion of Rosenstein were shocked that he allowed himself to be used by Trump and Sessions in such a blatant scheme to oust the person investigating the President’s own campaign. Senator Chuck Schumer wrote to Rosenstein warning that the Deputy Attorney General had “imperiled” his reputation as an “apolitical actor.”

.. “The content of that memo is totally in keeping with Rod,” the former Obama official said. “He’s a by-the-book guy, and he was deeply offended by how Comey broke the rules. The thing I don’t understand is how Rod let himself get played like that.”

.. a clash between the two men’s distinguishing characteristics: Comey’s zealous self-regard for his own independence and Rosenstein’s adherence to the letter of the law and Justice Department guidelines.

.. Before Comey was fired, he apparently never went to Rosenstein and explained the steps that Trump had taken to try to shut down the investigation of Michael Flynn. If Comey had, Rosenstein would have known that Trump was taking actions that looked a lot like obstruction of justice. “If Comey had gone to Rod, he would never have written that memo,”

.. “Those alarm bells should have gone off for Rod anyway, but Comey, by keeping it so close and feeling he’s not accountable to anyone, made it easier for Rod.”

.. his actions to safeguard the independence of the investigation and publicly warn Trump that he would not obey an order to fire Mueller may have triggered Trump’s wrath

.. Ironically, Trump is now alluding to the fact that Rosenstein was—wittingly or not—a part of the plot to get rid of Comey. Trump may be seizing on that fact as a way to push Rosenstein into recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

.. It is classic Trump: he ensnared Rosenstein in a scheme to get rid of Comey. Now that Rosenstein has tried to correct his error and insulate the investigation from further meddling, Trump is using Rosenstein’s role in the scheme to try to push him aside. (If this sounds like a plot from “The Sopranos,” it’s because there were, in fact, several episodes like this.)

.. The next person in line, Rachel Lee Brand, the Associate Attorney General, has a background in Republican politics and little experience in criminal or national-security cases.) If Rosenstein is forced to recuse himself, whoever comes after him as Mueller’s overseer will know that Trump is hoping that he or she will be more pliable.

Trump’s outburst of rage just sent the Russia scandal hurtling forward

We aren’t there yet, but let’s take a good look at where we are. There is something serious going on between Trump and Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

.. Just as he has done publicly on Twitter, Trump has told friends and associates that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and that others are out to get him. “It’s basically all he talks about on the phone,” said one adviser who has spoken with Trump and his top aides.

.. Rosenstein could become a witness in the obstruction investigation, which would make it problematic for him to be overseeing Mueller. The authority would then fall to Brand. Is Trump going to go after her next? What happens if he orders her to fire Mueller? Would she resign in protest like Richardson and Ruckelshaus, or follow orders like Bork?

.. If you were trying to limit the investigation and its political fallout and not antagonize the prosecutors, it would be utterly insane to send out these kinds of tweets. Trump’s staff and lawyers are surely begging him to stop. But they can’t control him. There may be people who are willing to stand up to him and tell him that he’s making a mistake, but he’s obviously not willing to listen.

.. In the Russia scandal we could have those two sets of actions, but on top of them we have a paranoid, infantile president seemingly determined to put himself in ever-greater political and legal jeopardy.

.. The more we learn about how deep Mueller’s investigation is reaching, the higher the chances that Trump will, in a moment of rage, order Mueller to be fired. If you think things are dramatic and absurd right now, just wait — it’s going to get worse.