WASHINGTON — If it’s up to Illinois’ Democratic senators, U.S. Attorney John Lausch — nominated by President Donald Trump — will remain Chicago’s top federal prosecutor after Joe Biden becomes president.
Presidents can fire U.S. attorneys and Democratic Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth want Lausch retained, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Biden, kicking off his transition Monday, has not signaled his plans for the 93 U.S. attorneys, who serve at the discretion of the president.
Durbin spokesman Emily Hampsten said Durbin and Duckworth “supported John Lausch during his confirmation. And they continue to have confidence in him.”
Multiple corruption investigations have gone public during Lausch’s three-year tenure, leading to criminal charges against several Democratic politicians.
Even Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who chairs the Democratic Party of Illinois, has been implicated, though not criminally charged, in a bribery case involving ComEd. Madigan has denied wrongdoing.
Court records show groundwork for those corruption cases was laid during the tenure of Lausch’s predecessor, Zachary Fardon.
Lausch shares a common background with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Both once served as assistant U.S. attorneys in Chicago.
That might explain how Lightfoot and Lausch have managed to maintain a working relationship despite a toxic national divide that led Lightfoot to publicly spar with Trump over his constant Chicago-bashing and his attorney general, William Barr.
Lausch has been able to maintain Lightfoot’s trust even as he appeared at the White House with Trump to announce Operation Legend, a federal crime crackdown program, and when he shared the stage with Barr in Chicago last September.
Now, by offering a show of support to Lausch, Durbin and Duckworth are signaling they do not want any roadblocks thrown up that could be perceived as interfering with Lausch’s corruption investigations.
Durbin and Duckworth went so far last week as to call for Madigan to step down as state party chair after he proved a drag on House and down-ballot Democratic contenders.
A Lausch spokesman did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
In March, 2017, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 U.S. attorneys appointed during former President Barack Obama’s administration to resign. Fardon was among them.
While U.S. attorneys are nominated by presidents, they must be confirmed by the Senate, now under Republican control. Whether the Senate flips to Democrats won’t be known until the January runoff for two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia.
Controversy is avoided when the home state senators and the White House agree on a nominee. A nominee must clear the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Durbin is a member, to get a Senate vote.
Lausch replaced Fardon in a collegial behind-the-scenes process in which the Trump White House worked with Durbin and Duckworth to find a candidate who the senators would support.
In 2017, the Trump White House sent Lausch, its pick to fill the newly vacant U.S. attorney seat in Chicago, to a screening panel created by Durbin and Duckworth to help fill the Northern District of Illinois top prosecutor’s vacancy.
Lausch flew through the Senate. Lausch was confirmed on a voice vote by the Senate for a four-year term on Nov. 9, 2017. If Lausch decides to depart when his term ends, Biden will still have a chance to tap his replacement.
FLASHBACK: CLINTON, ROSTENKOWSKI AND U.S. ATTORNEY PURGE
In March 1993, a few months after taking office, President Bill Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, ordered the resignation of all 93 U.S. attorneys, among them the prosecutor probing then-Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Illinois.
As the Sun-Times reported at the time, Democrat Clinton defended “the removal of all of the Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys in the nation, including the prosecutor investigating” Rostenkowski calling the process “less political than picking people out one by one.”
“On Capitol Hill, Rostenkowski said he had not urged the administration to dump U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens and he doubted that Stephens’ departure would cut short the investigation of his congressional and campaign finances.
Rostenkowski, who died in 2010, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1996,