John Lausch keeps his job as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor for now

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have won a rare exception to the blanket order from President Joe Biden to fire the remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Donald Trump by Feb. 28.

SHARE John Lausch keeps his job as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor for now
U.S. Attorney John Lausch speaks during a press conference in the courtyard of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop Friday afternoon, July 17, 2020.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch speaks during a press conference in the courtyard of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop Friday afternoon, July 17, 2020.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — John Lausch will remain on the job as the Chicago-based U.S. attorney until his successor is chosen and will not be forced to resign at the end of the month, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Illinois Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, and Tammy Duckworth won the rare exception to the blanket order of President Joe Biden to fire the remaining U.S. attorneys nominated by former President Donald Trump by Feb. 28.

A source told the Sun-Times that it is “rock solid” Lausch will stay for the time being, with the sign-off coming from the White House and the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department declined comment. So did a spokesman for Lausch’s office.

Durbin and Duckworth have been pushing the Biden White House to retain Lausch for now, and they said in a statement Tuesday, “We are pleased the Biden administration is acting on our request to retain U.S. Attorney Lausch until his successor is confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Lausch has served with professionalism and without partisanship. While the president has the right to remove U.S. attorneys, there is precedent for U.S. attorneys in the Northern District of Illinois to remain in office to conclude sensitive investigations. After our repeated calls, we appreciate that Mr. Lausch will be given this opportunity.”

Only a few weeks ago, it looked as though Lausch would be packing up his office and ending his tenure as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor. In the end, the ensuing flap over whether Lausch should stay may have only elevated his stature.

Lausch had already pulled off a significant political feat in a hyper-partisan atmosphere by maintaining the support of Illinois’ Democratic senators despite his nomination by Trump, a Republican, in 2017.

Now, Lausch becomes one of only three U.S. attorneys chosen by Trump who are not expected to leave office by the end of this month. That decision follows a chorus of support by politicians of both stripes for the work done by Lausch’s office in the last three years.

Illinois’ senators wrote a letter to the president earlier this month telling him Lausch should be allowed to remain in office until his successor is confirmed. Four Republican members of Congress from Illinois also said in a statement that Lausch should not be fired.

Lausch is a Joliet native whose success is likely due in part to the relationships he built in his past work around the Chicago area, including as a federal prosecutor. Key among his former colleagues was Lori Lightfoot, who became mayor of Chicago after Lausch took office.

But the outpouring of support for Lausch can mostly be attributed to a series of ongoing public corruption investigations that first went public on his watch late in 2018. They have targeted old-school, Chicago-style graft. 

Prosecutors hit Ald. Edward M. Burke in 2019 with a blockbuster racketeering indictment that alleged Burke used the city of Chicago as a criminal “enterprise.” Separate investigations have also led to charges against state lawmakers who include Sens. Martin Sandoval, Thomas Cullerton and Terry Link, as well as state Rep. Luis Arroyo. Of that group, only Cullerton remains in office. Sandoval died in December

Still, none of it has shaken Illinois as much as the bribery case that has implicated former House Speaker Michael Madigan and led to charges against ComEd and members of Madigan’s inner circle

Madigan has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, but the developments have been enough to end Madigan’s decadeslong grip on power in Illinois. He gave up the speaker’s gavel in January, and in the last week he resigned from the Illinois House and from his role as the head of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Records show some of the key investigations making headlines did not begin under Lausch, with crucial evidence being gathered before he took office. For example, the feds built their case against Burke with the help of then-Ald. Danny Solis, who records show had begun secretly recording his City Council colleague by August 2016. 

But under Lausch the work has become public and aggressive. And it has shaken up the political establishment across Illinois.

Lausch was unanimously confirmed for a four-year term by a Senate voice vote on Nov. 9, 2017.

Sweet reported from Washington; Seidel from Chicago

The Latest
Snarky Puppy in concert, “First Kings of Europe” at the Field Museum, and Gus Giordano Dance are among the entertainment highlights in the week ahead.
A teen and a man were on a street about 4:15 p.m. when someone in a car opened fire. They were taken to Loretto Hospital, where they were in good condition, officials said.
White Sox open tough April with four-game series against WS champion Astros
Grifol took a big plunge the day he signed on to replace Hall of Famer Tony La Russa and attempt to make a potentially good team with a dangerous dysfunctional side make sense again.
Verona Gunn, a former teacher, died after a speeding Chicago Police Department cruiser struck her car in 2019. Ten police officers were also injured in the crash.