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No. 3 Justice Department official stepping down amid turmoil

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand speaks during the

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand speaks during the opening of the summit on Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Department of Justice in Washington on Feb. 2, 2018. Photo Credit: AP / Jose Luis Magana

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department's No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency.

A friend of Rachel Brand told The Associated Press Friday she has accepted a job at a major corporation, but would not be more specific. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Brand's move ahead of an official announcement expected next week. The New York Times first reported the departure, which comes as the Justice Department has been subject to unprecedented attack by President Donald Trump.

Brand attracted interest because of her potential to assume a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation. The official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump. If Rosenstein had been fired or quit, oversight would have fallen to Brand. That job would now fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

Trump, who has openly lamented his inability to influence Justice Department decisions, has stepped up his criticism in recent weeks, fueled by the release of a politically charged memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation.

Brand, who became associate attorney general in May, has kept a relatively low profile. Unlike other top officials, she has not been personally targeted by Trump.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the "quality and leadership" of Brand and Rosenstein at a Justice Department event last week that focused on human trafficking, which was one of her stated priorities.

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