In the chaos of the Trump Era, we are all forced to read tea leaves because nothing is transparent and nothing proceeds in an orderly way. We’re now a day after news broke that Rachel Brand is stepping down as Associate Attorney General, the third ranking appointee at the Justice Department. Given the possible effects on the Mueller investigation, there’s no end of speculation about why she’s leaving.
Friends and associates quoted in the press refer to the job at Walmart as one she simply couldn’t turn down. That didn’t sound convincing to me yesterday and doesn’t sound any more convincing today. When I heard she was leaving for Walmart I assumed she was at least becoming General Counsel, what I think of as the top legal job at a big company like Walmart. When I heard it wasn’t even General Counsel but rather Head of Global Governance I was even more confused. But further reading corrected my misunderstanding. Head of Global Governance is the top legal job at the company, according to write up in the legal profession press.
Still, I don’t buy that this is a job she couldn’t turn down.
Brand is a young and rising star of the conservative legal world. Many or most of those people eventually end up in very lucrative corporate jobs. But not this early. For someone like that, top political appointments or judgeships are the can’t turn down jobs: jobs at the DOJ, perhaps a White House Counsel, Circuit or even Supreme Court nominations. Don’t get me wrong. Walmart is one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world. I’m sure the salary and compensation are astronomical. Still, for someone like Brand, it’s the DOJ appointment that is the big job. The high-paying corporate jobs will be there when she’s done there. Leaving after only 9 months, in any case, is just weird. It doesn’t add up – if we think in conventional, normal terms.
The more plausible explanation is contained in this blind quote from Politico.
“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.
I suspect this is some version of the explanation. Brand sees that continued association with Trump and the Trump DOJ is a threat to her reputation. Maybe that’s just based on the stuff we all see now. Maybe she sees some storm coming. Both seem possible. Either way, that’s a pretty plausible concern. She got the offer. She took it. I’ve heard speculation that perhaps Walmart is doing Trump a favor, helping get Brand out of the way. We have no basis for thinking that on the current evidence. But even if it were true, I think the same interpretation applies. She thinks the best thing for her career is to get out now. As a matter of self-interest, who can blame her.
Maybe we’ll find out there’s some more sinister story. But to me this one seems like the most plausible.