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Departing DOJ Official: Department Couldn't 'Continue to Sit Idly by' During Attacks on Free Speech

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand addresses The Federalist Society luncheon in Washington on Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said leaving the Department of Justice is “bittersweet” and she “would have been happy to stay much longer” but could not pass up a leadership opportunity at Walmart.

“I have loved working at DOJ, both in the Bush administration and now, and I would have been very happy to stay much longer but sometimes in one’s career, as many of you have experienced, no doubt, something comes up unexpectedly and you just can’t pass it up and that’s all there is to it. So, moving on,” Brand said to laughter from the audience at a Federalist Society luncheon on Thursday.

Brand is formally leaving DOJ this week to become Walmart’s executive vice president of global governance and corporate security.

NBC News reported last week that Brand decided to step down due to “fear” of being asked to oversee the Russia probe should President Trump decide to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, according to anonymous sources.

Brand said on Thursday that it’s been “a pleasure” serving with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Jeff Sessions is focused every day on protecting us from foreign terrorist threats, from violent crime in our cities,” she said. “He’s tackling the opioid crisis, he’s fighting gangs like MS-13 and, importantly, he’s focused every day on ensuring everything DOJ does promotes the rule of law, and that commitment is carried out every day by all of us at the department.”

Brand told the audience her prayers go out to the victims’ families after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday. The FBI was warned about a YouTube comment that the shooter had allegedly posted last year, which referenced carrying out a school shooting.

“Im going to be a professional school shooter,” read Nikolas Cruz’s comment.

After the tip, the FBI reportedly did not coordinate with local law enforcement. Separately, the FBI received a tip a month before the shooting from someone close to Cruz.

“The AG has already directed our office of legal policy to work with other agencies to study the intersection of mental health and criminality to try to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening again in the future,” Brand said during the speech.

Following her remarks, PJM asked Brand to explain what policy changes DOJ is exploring after the shooting but she did not respond.

Brand told the audience that DOJ has been using its “litigation authority” to protect First Amendment freedoms, particularly on college campuses.

“The attacks on free speech on college campuses have just gotten so great that we couldn’t continue to sit idly by and do nothing abut it,” she said. “The freedom to test the merits of a position and sharpen one’s own views by debating opposing viewpoints is really at the core of a liberal arts education, and yet at too many colleges around the country administrators find it more important to make sure that students feel comfortable and affirmed.”

Brand said too many colleges are “restricting” students’ speech through “policy or inaction” or “they’re enabling students to silence other students’ speech that they find disagreeable.” Brand criticized colleges that have implemented a “speech code” that bans “offensive” speech, which she argued is an “inherently subjective” term.

“A school might say it supports speech, but then it imposes so many bureaucratic barriers to speaking that it makes it almost impossible for a speaker to reach an audience,” she said.

As an example, Brand mentioned Kellogg Community College in Michigan, where students got in trouble for handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution without a permit.

“They were actually arrested and put in a jail cell for doing that,” she said. “The DA, mercifully, had the good judgment not to charge the case but that just gives you an idea of what this has come to.”

She criticized the University of California at Berkeley’s “hecklers veto” policy because it limits guest speakers who would “interfere” with campus operations to specific times and locations when “no one is likely to show up.”

“So if you want to silence a speaker you don’t like, just threaten to riot and the school will then box that speaker in, in a way that will not allow him to get his message to his audience,” she said.

Brand said policies that are similar to Berkeley’s have “constitutional implications,” especially at public universities, which is why DOJ is getting involved in the issue.

“We do not just support free speech for conservatives,” she said. “If there is a meritorious case against a public university brought by a liberal student we would love to know about it, so please bring it to our attention.”

Brand touted the Trump administration’s federal judicial nominations as their “biggest accomplishment” to date.

“Don McGahn at the White House has done a tremendous job pushing those appointments forward and I’m really proud of the work that Beth Williams and her team at OLP have done on that as well,” she said.