“This is a Very Big Deal”: Meet the Trump Appointees Who Could Replace Outgoing DOJ Official Rachel Brand – **UPDATED**

The third-highest ranking Justice Department official, Rachel Brand, is leaving her post, reports the New York Times

Rachel L. Brand, the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, plans to step down after nine months on the job as the country’s top law enforcement agency has been under attack by President Trump, according to two people briefed on her decision. Ms. Brand’s profile had risen in part because she is next in the line of succession behind the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian influence in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump, who has called the investigation a witch hunt, has considered firing Mr. Rosenstein. Such a move could have put her in charge of the special counsel and, by extension, left her in the cross hairs of the president. Ms. Brand, who became the associate attorney general in May 2017, is leaving for a job as general counsel in the private sector. She has held politically appointed positions at the Justice Department over the past three presidential administrations.

Who will replace Brand? According to an executive order on Justice Department succession, issued on March 31, 2017, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia gets first dibs. Second is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina and third is the Northern District of Texas.

Because Tracy Doherty-McCormick is only the acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the official most likely to replace Brand is U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Robert Higdon.

Robert J. Higdon, Jr. was nominated to be the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina by President Donald Trump on August 2, 2017.  He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 28, 2017.   As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Higdon is the top-ranking federal law enforcement official in the Eastern District of North Carolina, which includes the 44 eastern most counties of North Carolina. He oversees a staff of 108 employees, including 51 attorneys and 57 non-attorney support personnel.  The office also partners with some 20 Special Assistant United States Attorneys from branches of the United States military, local District Attorneys offices and federal and state regulatory agencies.

In 2012, Higdon was the lead prosecutor in the campaign finance fraud case involving former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas noted the shakeup is a, “very big deal.”

“It’s Brand (or her successor) who’s first in line to take over supervision of Mueller’s investigation if Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is fired.”

“So far as I know, there isn’t currently a confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, so under the current Executive Order, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina is next in the line of succession,” added Vladeck.

Vladeck then says in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own succession memo shows Solicitor General Noel Francisco, another Trump appointee, is next in line to replace Brand.

Noel John Francisco was sworn in as the 48th Solicitor General of the United States on September 19, 2017.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, he was a partner in the Washington, DC office of Jones Day, where he was the chair of the Firm’s Government Regulation Practice.  While at Jones Day, he appeared several times before the Supreme Court, including in McDonnell v. United States, which involved the meaning of “official act” under federal bribery statutes; Zubik v. Burwell, which involved the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to regulations related to insurance coverage for contraception; and NLRB v. Noel Canning, which involved the Constitution’s recess appointment power.  He has also argued numerous cases in the lower federal and state courts on a wide range of constitutional, civil, and criminal matters.

Brand joins a growing list of key officials leaving the FBI/DOJ cabal amid Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s probe into the bureau’s Clinton email investigation.

Top Justice Department official, David Laufman, who helped oversee the Hillary Clinton email investigation resigned Wednesday, reported the Washington Post.

Former FBI special agent Josh Campbell recently quit the bureau to join CNN, citing increasing levels of criticism directed at the agency.

In what was a significant shakeup at the FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down January 29th.

“McCabe, who served a brief stint as acting director of the bureau, was already expected to leave. He will stay on ‘terminal leave’ until he is eligible to retire with benefits in March,” reported CNBC.

In late January, James Rybicki, a top FBI official who was once chief of staff to James Comey and current Bureau Director Christopher Wray, resigned as well.

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