The obscure lawyer who might become the most powerful woman in Washington

Rosenstein might welcome turning over the responsibilities to Brand because it would take him out of the immediate line of fire from the White House, especially if Trump follows through on reports that he might order the Justice Department to curtail Mueller’s investigation or fire him.

If Brand took over supervision of Mueller’s inquiry, she would face a dilemma if Trump gave the order—fire the special counsel or, if she refused, face her own dismissal or resignation from the Justice Department. Many legal scholars have drawn a comparison between the situation faced by Rosenstein—and now, possibly, Brand—and the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, when Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy resigned rather than following President Richard Nixon’s orders to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Brand would then face a choice: Will she be like Richardson and Deputy William Ruckelshaus, who left the Nixon administration with their reputations intact? Or will she be the second coming of Robert Bork, the third-in-command whose role in Cox’s firing helped cost him a Supreme Court seat a decade later? Richardson and Ruckelshaus went on to distinguished post-Nixon careers, with both men receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Democratic presidents. Bork was a brilliant legal mind, and contributed a great deal to conservative legal thought over the years—but was despised by the Democrats whose help he needed to reach the heights of the legal profession on the Supreme Court.

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