U.S. Attorney John Lausch submitted his formal resignation Wednesday stating he’ll be leaving his high-profile post as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor later this month.
“It has been the privilege of a lifetime to lead the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago,” Lausch said in a written statement. “It was my honor each and every day to help carry out the office’s mission to uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe, and protect our civil rights.”
Lausch’s departure, which was first revealed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland during an unrelated news conference in Washington in January, will officially kick off a search for a replacement that will be led by Illinois’ two Democratic senators, Dick Dubin and Tammy Duckworth.
In the interim, Lausch’s deputy, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris “Sonny” Pasqual, will serve as acting U.S. attorney, believed to be the first Black person to ever have that role.
“John Lausch has served the citizens … with magnificent distinction,” Pasqual said in the written release. “I want to thank John for his tremendous stewardship of the office, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, has previously said Lausch’s exit had been in the works since last year, and that he will “be taking some time off before considering career options.”
A nominee of Republican President Donald Trump, Lausch was originally asked by the incoming Biden administration to step down from his post in 2021 along with other Trump holdovers.
But Lausch was allowed to stay on the job after an unusual push from Durbin and Duckworth, who extolled Lausch as a corruption buster who needed to see through investigations of some of the state’s most powerful politicians.
The White House announced in February 2021 that Lausch could remain in office until a successor was nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, though no official search for a replacement ever materialized.
Lausch, 52, who hails from Joliet and currently lives in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, captained the 1987 state champion Joliet Catholic football team and was a linebacker and team captain at Harvard University.
He was nominated by Trump after Durbin and Duckworth aided the White House in the search. Lausch succeeded Zachary Fardon, who stepped down from the post after Trump asked for the resignations of all Obama administration-era U.S. attorney holdovers.
Lausch was sworn in as U.S. attorney on Nov. 22, 2017, two weeks after being confirmed by unanimous voice vote in the Senate.
He is currently overseeing a number of high-profile investigations, including the racketeering case against Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, the bribery probe involving Commonwealth Edison, and the bombshell charges levied against ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan last March.
Lausch’s exit comes just days before the trial of the so-called ComEd Four gets underway at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, which is likely to be the biggest public corruption trial in Chicago since former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted by a jury 12 years ago.
Lausch’s five-plus years on the high-octane job exceeds the terms of many of his predecessors, including Fardon, who served as U.S. attorney for about 3 ½ years beginning in 2013 before leaving for a private Chicago law firm.
Before Fardon, Patrick Fitzgerald, who also earned a reputation as a nonpartisan corruption fighter, served for nearly 12 years as U.S. attorney in Chicago under Democratic and Republican presidents.
Lausch, however, took over in a hyperpartisan era and had to navigate a number of thorny issues, many of which arose from Trump’s constant trolling of Chicago on Twitter over issues such as gun violence and immigration.
In a sit-down with reporters a few months into his tenure, Lausch was careful to steer clear of any political questions, saying he was not getting pressure from Washington to change any office policies but declining to comment specifically about Trump’s tweets.
In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions tapped Lausch to oversee the process of sorting through roughly 880,000 records in part of the House probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
The politically charged issue of Chicago violence came to a head again two years later, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2020 threatened to sue after Trump announced he was sending federal agents to Chicago to tackle violent crime, which she said was done without her permission.
A similar move in Portland, Oregon, had led to widespread denouncement after unidentified federal agents wearing camouflage uniforms were recorded making arrests.
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Lightfoot changed her tone after speaking with Lausch, her former colleague at the U.S. attorney’s office, whom she said she admired and trusted. The mayor said Lausch assured her an influx of law enforcement would be working “collaboratively” with Chicago cops against violent crime.
Amid that turmoil, Lausch was also leading his office through the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, which virtually shut down the courthouse for a significant period, led to difficulties assembling grand juries to hear cases and has left a backlog of criminal defendants awaiting trial.
In addition to the public corruption probes, Lausch has earned a reputation for going after Chicago’s street gangs, which he’d done previously as an assistant U.S. attorney under Fitzgerald.
Since Lausch took over, his office has charged more than 80 reputed gang members under the federal racketeering statute, which brings hefty mandatory minimum sentences and in some cases can carry the death penalty.
Most recently, the leader of the West Side’s notoriously violent Wicked Town gang faction was convicted along with an associate on racketeering charges involving a string of murders, shootings, robberies, beatings and other violence going back two decades.
“We’ve seen the gangs change and shift,” Lausch told the Tribune in an interview in 2021. “They’re more factionalized. … When we’re looking at the drivers of violence, we’ve seen a lot of it relate to turf and social media and retaliation upon retaliation. And this is a way from a federal law enforcement standpoint that we can make an impact.”