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

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

He said the president didn’t try 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.

“It’s pretty apparent that this is something we need to be doing here in Chicago,” Lausch said.

Still, Lausch also said “public corruption is, and always will be, a priority of this office.” He included national security, child exploitation and health care fraud on that list, and he 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.”

Lausch spoke to reporters Wednesday for the first time since taking on his new job. Trump nominated him for it Aug. 3, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Trump’s choice Nov. 9.

Lausch made no comment Wednesday on the political rhetoric in Washington. But he said he expects his roots in the Chicago area to be helpful as he takes on his new role. He said he’s already met with officials from several law enforcement agencies, including Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

There have been few noticeable changes around the Dirksen Federal Courthouse since Lausch was sworn in Nov. 22. His 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.

There has been a clear clamoring for Lausch to put violent crime on the front burner now that he is in office. When he nominated Lausch, Trump cited Lausch’s past work handling narcotic and gang cases.

The president also has not minced words when it comes to Chicago crime, writing on Twitter four days after his inauguration that, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on . . . I will send in the Feds!”

Last year, about 20 additional agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were sent here to combat gun violence. And earlier this month, Lausch’s office announced it had been chosen to receive three additional prosecutors to focus exclusively on violent crime.

Lausch is now the city’s top fed after previously spending 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney here. During that time, he prosecuted street gang members and corrupt cops. 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.