As President Joe Biden begins the process of terminating U.S. Attorneys across the country to install his own appointees, Illinois’ two Democratic U.S. Senators are asking his administration to spare John Lausch, Chicago’s top federal prosecutor who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Lausch’s office has been spearheading a high-profile corruption probe in Illinois politics that have ensnared some of the most powerful elected officials, lobbyists and the largest utility in the state.
“We are disappointed with the decision to terminate U.S. Attorney Lausch without consulting us,” Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth wrote in a joint statement. “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.
“We believe Mr. Lausch should be permitted to continue in his position until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, and we urge the Biden administration to allow him to do so.”
Lausch was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 2017 with bipartisan support.
It is common for new presidents to appoint their own U.S. attorneys.
“We are committed to ensuring a seamless transition,” Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson announced in a statement Tuesday. “Until U.S. Attorney nominees are confirmed, the interim and acting leaders in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will make sure that the department continues to accomplish its critical law enforcement mission, vigorously defend the rule of law and pursue the fair and impartial administration of justice for all.”
The plea from both Durbin and Duckworth, however, stands out given that a sweeping corruption investigation remains ongoing.
A spokesman for Lausch’s office said Tuesday morning that he had no updates on Lausch’s fate given the recent news reports that Biden would be terminating all but two U.S. Attorneys in the country.
Since Lausch was sworn in, his office indicted the powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke on 14 counts of corruption, including bribery and racketeering. Burke has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Lausch’s office also entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the power company Commonwealth Edison. As part of the landmark agreement, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and admitted it embarked on a years-long effort to bribe Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan by awarding do-nothing jobs and contracts to Madigan associates in exchange for favorable legislation.
Federal prosecutors also indicted ComEd’s former chief executive and three of its lobbyists, including Michael McClain, a longtime confidante of Madigan’s. Another former ComEd executive pleaded guilty for his role in the bribery scheme.
Madigan, who was given the moniker Public Official A in charging documents, denies wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. However the scandal prompted several of Madigan’s House Democrats to abandon him as he sought reelection for House Speaker, ultimately denying him from the speaker’s gavel that he’s held almost consistently since 1983.
On the day Lausch announced the deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd, he told reporters that corruption in Illinois “continues to be a stubborn problem.”
After Durbin won reelection to the U.S. Senate in November, he made clear in a WBEZ interview that he wanted Lausch to remain in place.
“We know that he has a major investigation underway involving ComEd and others,” Durbin said. “That has to be resolved. … I want him to finish his work, whatever it may be.”
Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.