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Justice Department's No. 3 official to resign

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is stepping down from her post as the Justice Department faces intense criticism from President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE.

The New York Times first reported Friday that Brand is resigning after nine months on the job. She is expected to take a job as general counsel in the private sector.

As the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, Brand would be next in line to oversee special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Trump has blasted as a "witch hunt."

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That investigation is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinFBI investigated media leak of McCabe comment about Flynn and Trump House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Sessions unveils task force to combat transnational criminal groups like MS-13 MORE. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDepartment of Justice right to go after Hezbollah Sessions defends media following disappearance of Saudi journalist Trump goes on 12-tweet Twitter tirade MORE recused himself from the inquiry last year after it was revealed that he met with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election.

At the time of the meetings, Sessions was serving as a Republican senator from Alabama and was a high-profile surrogate for Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Rachel Brand is a lawyer’s lawyer,” Sessions said in a statement Friday, noting her work as a clerk at the Supreme Court, at the White House and in two previous administrations.

"As Associate Attorney General, she has played a critical role in helping us accomplish our goals as a Department—taking on human trafficking, protecting free speech on campus, and fighting sexual harassment in public housing," he said.

"I know the entire Department of Justice will miss her, but we join together in congratulating her on this new opportunity in the private sector. She will always remain a part of the Department of Justice family."

Brand has served as a political appointee at the Justice Department in three presidential administrations. In her current role, she oversees the department’s civil division, civil rights division and antitrust division.

“The men and women of the Department of Justice impress me every day,” Brand said in a statement released by the Justice Department.

“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish over my time here. I want to thank Attorney General Sessions for his leadership over this Department. I’ve seen firsthand his commitment to the rule of law and to keeping the American people safe.”

The news of Brand’s resignation comes as Trump has in recent weeks stepped up his criticism of the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the election and whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow in an effort to sway the race.

Fueling Trump’s criticism of the Justice Department is a memo released last week by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. That document alleges that FBI and Justice Department officials misused their authority to obtain a surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser.

Trump has said that the memo provides evidence of bias in the FBI and that it “totally vindicates” him in the Russia probe.

Media reports have also indicated that Trump has floated the idea of firing Rosenstein, though the White House has denied that notion. If the president did oust Rosenstein, Brand would have become responsible for overseeing the Russia investigation.

Updated at 7:04 p.m.