Trump to nominate federal prosecutor Jessie Liu for No. 3 Justice Department post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump plans to nominate Jessie Liu, the current U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to serve in the third-ranking post at the Justice Department, the department said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO - United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu speaks during a news conference to discuss "efforts to reduce violent crime" at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Liu would serve as associate attorney general - a job that involves overseeing the department’s civil litigation, including antitrust matters, civil rights, and environmental law.

A White House representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. U.S. Attorney General William Barr confirmed the plan in a statement, adding that he had recommended Liu for the post.

“With her record of public service, particularly in civil justice and federal law enforcement matters, it is clear that she will be an outstanding addition to our leadership team at the Department,” Barr said.

The associate attorney general’s job at the Justice Department does not involve overseeing criminal cases or national security.

However, it became a focus of interest in February 2018 after then-Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand quit the job to take a position with Walmart.

At the time of her exit, she was next in the line of succession to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

At the time, speculation was high about whether Trump might try to fire Rosenstein in an effort to kill Mueller’s probe, a step Trump never took.

Brand’s departure came only nine months into her tenure, after Trump unleashed blistering attacks against many top Justice Department officials including former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

Reuters previously reported that Brand was starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s attacks on her department and the FBI.

Since her departure, the No. 3 post has been filled by Jesse Panuccio, who has not been confirmed by the Senate.

Liu has served as U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., since September 2017.

Prior to her confirmation, she acknowledged to U.S. senators that she had a rare in-person interview with Trump for the job. That is a departure from standard practice, and could become a focal point for Senate Democrats who raised concerns about whether it constituted improper meddling by the White House.

Liu’s office has been involved in some high-profile cases since she joined.

It has taken the lead on handling Mueller’s criminal case against former Trump political adviser Roger Stone, and convened a grand jury to investigate whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should face criminal charges for lying to investigators about his interactions with reporters.

A lawyer for McCabe said late last month that investigation is still going on.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall