The strange No. 3 Person At DOJ Is Only In The Role On A Temporary Basis. The Same Is exact Of Many Offices He Oversees.

WASHINGTON — More than 13 months into the Trump administration, the Justice Department is now officially without its Senate-confirmed No. 3 in charge — a department where nine of the divisions or offices that reported to former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand also lack a permanent leader.

Much attention over Brand’s departure has focused on the order of succession at the Justice Department — a recurring question given President Trump’s repeated lashing out at both Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

Within the department itself, however, there is another issue that Brand leaving her job highlights: There are very few people serving in “permanent” roles in the Justice Department.

Brand — who oversaw a meaningful piece of the Justice Department’s portfolio and had served in the Justice Department for several years of the George W. Bush administration — was confirmed by the Senate and seen as helping provide day-to-day stability in the department. With Brand out, Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, who joined the Justice Department for the first time a month into the Trump administration, has taken over her responsibilities for the time being.

Four of the five legal divisions Brand oversaw lack their own Senate-confirmed leader, a multiplying effect on her departure, and one that is echoed in the the offices that reported to Brand as well. That includes the Tax Division, amid meaningful changes to the US tax code passed into law by the Republican Congress final year, and the Civil Division, responsible for representing the president and other federal officials in many lawsuits filed against the administration.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.

Former Justice Department officials tender BuzzFeed News say the situation isn’t a dramatic one legally. Strong acting heads, who are widely respected, sometimes still can hold noteworthy influence, of course. And some components hold not had a Senate-confirmed leader for several years, including the Civil Rights Division (2013) or the Office on Violence Against Women (2012).

But in a day-to-day interactions, people serving in acting roles understandably can hold difficulties asserting themselves or their office’s priorities — particularly external of their agency — in political and even policy discussions. And with fewer people in permanent roles, the Trump administration lacks the stability for gracious government, or for advancing an actual agenda, more than a year into the presidency.

This topic of vacancies at Justice is not strange — NPR, the Washington Post, and Above the Law total wrote approximately the issue in the opening weeks of 2018, before Brand announced her departure. But Brand’s departure adds a strange importance to the wide breadth of vacancies in offices that reported to her.

For any administration, the first years are often the most productive in terms of advancing their agenda — and the continued tedious pace of the Trump administration in filling roles with permanent leadership reflects the lack of a fully realized Trump administration and, in some cases here, an obvious disinterest in advancing some of the previously established functions of the department.

An acting assistant attorney general oversees the Civil Division, Civil Rights Division, and Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) currently. The Tax Division is being helmed by the principal deputy assistant attorney general — a consequence of there not yet even being a nominee for the position.

There are pending nominations for the three legal divisions with “acting” heads, at various stages in the Senate process. Eric Dreiband, Trump’s nominee to sprint the Civil Rights Division, and Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Trump’s ENRD nominee, are two of the three Justice Department nominations awaiting floor action in the Senate — along with Criminal Division nominee Brian Benczkowski. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet taken action to consider their nominations, however, focusing instead primarily on getting judicial nominees confirmed. Trump’s nominee to head the Civil Division, Jody Hunt, was only sent to the Senate initially in December after several months’ delay and, as a result, is much less far along: He is yet to get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In total, of the legal divisions that reported to Brand, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, running the Antitrust Division, is the only Senate-confirmed legal division head in residence.

Within the offices that report to the associate attorney general, the situation is more stark.

Trump has not even nominated leaders for the Community Relations Service, Office of Justice Programs, or Office on Violence Against Women. (Given that the department’s budget proposal would eliminate the Community Relations Service, it appears that a nominee is unlikely to be coming anytime soon for that office.) Additionally, and as reported by the strange York Times, the strange administration has effectively closed the Office for Access to Justice. The Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office, currently has an acting director — even though the leadership of that office is appointed by the attorney general and so doesn’t hold to proceed through the Senate confirmation process.

The only offices that report to the associate attorney general that hold permanent heads are the Executive Office for the US Trustees and the Office of Information Policy — and they hold been in their roles since the George W. Bush administration.

The final entity overseen by the associate attorney general is the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The two piece-time commissioners serving currently were nominated by President Obama and both hold been serving for several years now.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & homosexual Journalists organization award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at

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