New U.S. Atty has eye on violent crime; public corruption ‘always’ a priority

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U.S. Attorney John Lausch, top federal prosecutor in Chicago.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch meets with the media at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in January. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Sun-Times file

Chicago’s new U.S. attorney says he’s never spoken to President Donald Trump.

He said the president made no attempt to talk him. And he says he received no marching orders of note reflecting the Trump Administration’s harsh words for Chicago and its struggle with gun violence.

But there’s no doubt that gun violence is a priority for U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who took over an office of roughly 150 federal prosecutors two months ago. He spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since taking on his new job.

“It’s pretty apparent that this is something we need to be doing here in Chicago,” Lausch said when asked about the violence issue.

Still, Lausch said “public corruption is, and always will be, a priority of this office.” Later, he put national security at the top of the priorities list. But he also mentioned child exploitation and commodities and healthcare fraud. Lausch also said, “we have some very good people to handle all those priorities.”

“There’s a lot of No. 1 priorities,” Lausch said, “and a lot of 1As.”

Trump nominated Lausch to be Chicago’s new U.S. attorney on Aug. 3, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Trump’s choice Nov. 9.

Lausch previously served for 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago. Among the defense lawyers to oppose him in court was Richard Kling, who remembered Lausch Wednesday as an ethical opponent who “did everything he should have done as a vigorous advocate.”

“I’m very pleased he’s the U.S. attorney,” Kling said.

Lausch met the media on the same day the Justice Department threatened Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois with subpoenas over so-called sanctuary city policies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decried the “lawlessness” of Chicago. And four days after his inauguration, Trump wrote on Twitter that, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on . . . I will send in the Feds!”

But Lausch had no comment Wednesday about the political rhetoric in Washington, insisting he has been given discretion to decide local priorities. He said he expects his roots in the Chicago area to be helpful, and he’s already met with officials from several law enforcement agencies, including Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

Lausch’s predecessor, ex-U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, left 10 months ago after the Trump Administration asked for the resignation of Obama-era U.S. attorneys. Joel Levin took the reins as acting U.S. attorney in the meantime.

But there have been few noticeable changes around the Dirksen Federal Courthouse since Lausch was sworn in Nov. 22. About 20 additional agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were sent here earlier last year to combat gun violence. And this month, Lausch’s office announced it had been chosen to receive three additional prosecutors to focus exclusively on violent crime.

Lausch said those agents have not yet been hired.

He said there are no prosecutors assigned exclusively to investigate alleged wrongdoing by police — another hot-button issue in the city. Jeffrey Sallet, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Chicago, has insisted his agency is “not the national shooting review board.”

Asked about those comments, Lausch said if authorities see a potential violation of federal law, “the FBI and this office would look at and give it a fair look, as we’ve always done.”

Lausch took on corrupt cops, as well as street gangs, during his 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney here. He also served as the violent crime coordinator and led the Anti-Gang and Project Safe Neighborhoods programs.

More recently, the Joliet native worked as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, where he represented BP in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as unnamed clients under scrutiny for alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, environmental crimes and securities fraud.

Lausch graduated Joliet Catholic High School in 1988. He headed to Harvard University where he was captain of the varsity football team, earning an undergraduate degree in 1992. He returned to Illinois to attend Northwestern University School of Law, picking up a law degree in 1996.

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