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Top DOJ official Rachel Brand fires back at claims she bolted over Mueller probe concerns

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Former top Justice Department official Rachel Brand, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, pushed back strongly at speculation she left the Trump administration over concerns she could have been tapped to oversee the Robert Mueller Russia probe.

“Anyone who actually knows me knows that had nothing to do with my departure,” Brand told Fox News on Tuesday.

Brand spoke with Fox News during her last afternoon as associate attorney general, the No. 3 DOJ post. She recently made the surprise announcement that she’s stepping down to take a position as Walmart’s executive vice president of global governance and corporate secretary.

The move spurred anonymous-source speculation that she’s leaving in order to avoid the possibility of getting caught up in the internal politics of the Russia investigation – namely, being thrust into the role of Mueller’s keeper if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were to be pushed out.

RACHEL BRAND, NO. 3 OFFICIAL AT DOJ, IS STEPPING DOWN

Brand, however, stressed that she’s leaving only to take a job “most lawyers would dream their whole career about taking.”

‘I never had any reason to think that the Mueller probe would come to me.’

– Rachel Brand

“These kind of jobs come along maybe once in a career, and when they come along it might not be the perfect timing for you, but you have to take the opportunity when it comes,” she said.

Brand bristles at some of the reports about the circumstances of her exit.

“I never had any reason to think that the Mueller probe would come to me, and even if it had, it has nothing to do with why I left the department,” Brand said. “… This was about seizing an opportunity, not about leaving DOJ.”

Brand, the first woman to serve as associate attorney general, built an impressive resume by the time she was nominated for the post by President Trump.

She has held senior titles inside the Department of Justice during three presidential administrations. After helping to represent former President George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, she served as an assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy. In 2012, Brand was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

But her tenure in the Trump administration came with unavoidable questions about the direction of the Russia probe.

Mueller presently is supervised by Rosenstein, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation last year. But as Trump has fumed over the investigation – typically via Twitter – lawmakers have warned about the possibility he could oust Rosenstein.

If Rosenstein were to go, Brand would have been next in line to supervise the case.

A source close to Brand inside Justice headquarters, though, scoffed at the idea that she was “overwhelmed,” as one report suggested.

“If she really wanted to leave DOJ, she wouldn’t uproot her whole family to Arkansas, she could have easily found something closer to home,” the source said.

Still, Trump has made a habit of attacking the Department of Justice, including the attorney general and the FBI, during his first year in office — leading many to worry about morale at the department. He renewed that pressure on Wednesday, questioning on Twitter why Sessions isn’t looking at “Dem crimes” amid the Russia probe.

However, Brand told Fox News she believes morale inside the department is high and the workforce is “committed to the mission.”

When pressed to comment on the rocky relations between the White House and DOJ, Brand told Fox News, “I think that the overwhelming majority of the DOJ workforce does a pretty good job of tuning that out.”

Looking back at her lengthy DOJ career, Brand said she sees the push for the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as one of her key victories.

“On the night of the cloture vote in the Senate, it was extremely tight, we had to get to 60 votes,” Brand recounted. “The floor was held open for hours because we needed that 59th and 60th vote and to work closely with [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats … was an incredible honor and a pleasure.”

The reauthorization “was a huge win for the intelligence community and for all Americans.”

Brand also pointed to her work during the George W. Bush administration getting Justice Samuel Alito confirmed to the Supreme Court as another highlight.

“The kind of work we do here is amazing. It’s very fulfilling. It’s really important,” she said.

“Of course I will miss my colleagues here at the department,” Brand said. “I wrestled with leaving, because I do enjoy this work so much … but I’m also excited about my next chapter.”

Jake Gibson is a producer working at the Fox News Washington bureau who covers politics, law enforcement and intelligence issues.

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Brexit LIVE: France plots to steal UK business – shameless Macron issues special invite

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EMMANUEL MACRON is using the Covid pandemic to lure the UK’s lucrative banking industry to France.

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Brexit warning: Boris Johnson 'now recognises the disaster he has made' with protocol

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BORIS JOHNSON’S attitude towards Northern Ireland in Brexit discussions with the EU has been ripped apart by a leading Unionist politician, who warned his “absolutely disastrous” policies are wreaking havoc on communities.

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Trump cowboy plots political future after Capitol breach

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TULAROSA, N.M. — He rodeoed in a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West show, carried his message on horseback from the Holy Land to Times Square and was invited to the White House to meet the president.

But luck may have run out for this cowboy pastor who rode to national political fame by embracing former President Donald Trump with a series of horseback caravans and came crashing down with a defiant stand Jan. 6 against President Joe Biden’s election.

Today, Couy Griffin is divorced, disparaged by family and confronts a political recall drive, a state corruption investigation and federal charges.

And yet he remains determined. He sees himself as governor one day.

The first-term county commissioner forged a group of rodeo acquaintances in 2019 into a promotional Cowboys for Trump posse to spread his conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.

Trump’s election defeat has left the 47-year-old father in a lonely fight for his political life after preaching to crowds at the U.S. Capitol siege, promising to take his guns to Biden’s inauguration and landing in jail for over a week.

In Washington, prosecutors unveiled photographs of Griffin climbing a toppled fence and another barrier to access the Capitol steps.

Public defense attorneys say a close reading of the law shows the area wasn’t off limits. They say Griffin didn’t partake in violence and was well within his free speech rights as he voiced election grievances and attempted to lead a prayer with a bullhorn.

Griffin is one of thousands of Trump loyalists in public office who are charting an uncertain future ahead of the 2022 election cycle. He’s part of a smaller cadre who flirted with insurrection on Trump’s behalf and may still pay a high price. In all, more than 400 people were charged in the insurrection, which left five dead and dozens of officers injured.

Griffin has been rebuked by some Republicans over his racial invective. He’s also been suspended from Facebook and banished from Native American lands in his district as he contests charges of breaking into the Capitol grounds and disrupting Congress that could carry a one-year sentence. A recall effort is underway, amid a bevy of lawsuits.

Still, loyal constituents are easy to come by in a rural county steeped in the anti-establishment, pro-gun culture that dominates southern New Mexico.

“He means no malice on anybody,” said George Seeds, outside the New Heart Cowboy Church in Alamogordo where Griffin once served as pastor. “His concern is the direction of this country, where it’s going.”

Defiance of federal government and its oversight of public lands are staples of politics in Otero County, which spans an area three times the size of Delaware, from the dunes of White Sands National Park to the peaks of the Lincoln National Forest.

Banned from Washington until testimony or trial, Griffin has returned to the routines of home in a tidy double-wide trailer in Tularosa, working most days as a stone mason. A donkey named Henry brays from a side yard.

In a conversation with The Associated Press, Griffin says he learned to love the spotlight during five years as an expert rodeo hand in a Wild West show at Paris’ Disneyland park.

His rides with Cowboys for Trump through numerous states were a reprise of proselytizing trips he made from Ireland to Jerusalem, before social media, to hand out the Gospel of John.

The group captivated the public imagination with its first outing, a 2019 flag-waving ride down the shore of the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery.

Ramie Harper, a 67-year-old former bull rider from Fruitland, took a break from making custom hats to join the caravan.

“They loved it,” Harper said. “We was on ‘Fox & Friends’ the next day.”

With calls for an independent investigation of the Capitol siege blocked by Senate Republicans, Griffin is out on bail and speaking his mind.

He’s an advocate for stricter state voting laws and a die-hard opponent of COVID-19 restrictions who says “hell no” to taking the vaccine.

Griffin still wears a monogrammed Cowboys for Trump shirt to commission meetings. But his allegiance to Trump has wavered.

“I don’t have the same confidence in him,” Griffin said. “Whenever you say, ‘China stole the election. … The election was stolen from me,’ and then you just walk away? That’s hard for me to accept.”

He says his obsession with politics has taken a toll, contributing to his 2019 divorce and tensions with relatives.

“I’ve had my own family say some pretty nasty things,” Griffin said. “It’s been real hard.”

With Trump or without, Griffin still ascribes to unsubstantiated claims of massive 2020 election fraud.

He yearns to someday run for governor even though state GOP leaders are openly scornful and Democrats hold every statewide elected office.

More immediately, Griffin is eyeing an open 2022 sheriff’s race in another New Mexico county where he grew up. His grandfather Wee Griffin held the Catron County post from 1963 to 1966. Trump won there in 2020 with 73% of the vote.

Griffin has cast Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as his political nemesis on issues of gun control, abortion and pandemic restrictions. He’d like to reinvent the sheriff’s role as a brake on the governor’s power.

“The county sheriff’s sole duty and responsibility is to protect our individual rights,” he said. “You think that the governor hates me as a county commissioner — put a gun and a badge on me, and we’ll see.”

Jeff Swanson, chairman of the Otero County Democratic Party, says Griffin’s divisive remarks hinder county efforts to secure state infrastructure spending, and he has engaged in intimidation by recording Cowboys for Trump videos from his office with a shotgun within view.

In Alamogordo, Griffin’s rhetoric on race has steeled the determination of opponents who want him out of office.

Griffin delivered a scathing rebuke last year as the NFL announced game-opening renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black national anthem.

“They want to destroy our country,” Griffin said in a video monologue. “I got a better idea. Why don’t you go back to Africa and form your little football teams. … You can play on an old beat-out dirt lot.”

Everette Brown, a Marine veteran and information technology specialist at Holloman Air Force Base who is Black, said that comment shows politics have changed Griffin, whom he once respected.

“I’m a big boy. I can handle a lot. And that was one that got me,” said Brown, part of a committee seeking to recall Griffin.

For now, Griffin has halted the petition with an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which hasn’t decided whether to intervene. Meanwhile, state prosecutors are investigating allegations Griffin used his office in coordination with Cowboys for Trump for personal financial gain, and signed a child-support check to his ex-wife from his Cowboys for Trump account.

Griffin has acknowledged using the county building for promotional videos but said he never claimed they were affiliated with Otero County. He also says Cowboys for Trump is a for-profit company, not a political group.

Donnie Reynolds, a 51-year-old sales associate at an Alamogordo hardware store, says Griffin is being targeted for ties to Trump.

He says Griffin is right about lots of things, like the need for a border wall.

“They’re going find out he didn’t have anything to do with these types of things,” he said. “They’re going to eat some crow.”

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