CHICAGO – When John R. Lausch, Jr., was a law student at Northwestern and worked as an intern inside the U.S. Attorney’s office, he envisioned a day when he would return to the office and make meaningful changes.
During the 11 years that the Joliet native spent as an assistant U.S. attorney, Lausch tried more than 20 jury cases involving racketeering, fraud, narcotics, extortion and firearms offenses. But after serving under then-U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Pat Fitzgerald, Lausch was determined to raise one day return as the boss.
After his first two months as the district’s U.S. Attorney, Lausch, 47, is prepared to continue making a difference. Lausch, who was sworn into office at a private ceremony in Chicago on Nov. 22, made his first public comments Wednesday since taking office and remains intent on keeping justice at the forefront of his office’s efforts.
Lausch was nominated by President Donald Trump to replace Zachary Fardon, who held the U.S. attorney's job for more than three years before the Justice Department asked him and other U.S. attorneys to resign.
Now, with a long list of priorities— headed by national security and more locally, Chicago’s ongoing fight against violent crime — Lausch has thrown himself headlong into his new role.
Lausch confirmed Wednesday that he has not yet spoken with Trump, who has long been critical of the efforts of state and federal law enforcement agencies' efforts in combating Chicago’s gun violence issues.
Trump has also been critical of Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, one of a handful of topics that, citing ongoing litigation and investigations, Lausch declined to comment on during his nearly 40-minute meeting with reporters at the Dirksen Federal Building.
Asked Wednesday whether is he concerned with Trump meddling in the Department of Justice’s affairs, Lausch replied, “we’ll take things as they come.”
But, he added: “We’re committed to doing the right thing.”
Prior to being confirmed to his post by the U.S. Senate in November, Lausch worked for Chicago-based law firm Kirkland and Ellis after spending more than a decade working in the U.S. Attorney’s office. During his 11 years there, Lausch served as a deputy chief in the narcotics and gangs section from 2005-2010 and oversaw prosecutions involving street gangs, fraud schemes and public corruption.
Now in charge, Lausch will continue to oversee the ongoing efforts to deal with issues that have long been priorities for his office. Since taking office, Lausch has met with several heads of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies.
Maintaining open channels of communications between his office, prosecutors and both federal and local law enforcement officials will be critical, Lausch said, to achieving success.
Lausch, who was a member of Joliet Catholic’s 1987 state championship football team and who went on to captain the football team at Harvard, cited teamwork as being a critical component of cutting down on the problems his office deals with on a daily basis.
“When you’re on a team, you have a role,” he said. “And you have to understand what that role is and you need to work with others toward a common goal.”
As U.S. attorney, Lausch is in charge of an office that includes 150 assistant U.S. attorneys and various support staff. The office recently was allotted funding for three additional assistant U.S. attorneys who will be added to the office’s ongoing efforts to combat violent crimes.
The narcotics and violent crimes section is the largest of its kind within Lausch’s office, which also deals with child exploitation, human trafficking, health care fraud and white collar financial crimes.
Lausch said that the office will continue to work with local and federal agencies in matters of national security and detecting where viable threats lie and making sure that the matter isreceiving the attention it deserves.
As a whole, Lausch characterizes the morale within his office as “good” but that part of his job is to insure that remains the case and that those who work for him are able to focus on the kind of cases they prefer to work, which allows various priorities to remain at the top of the list within the office.
“There are a lot of things that keep all of us up at night,” Lausch said.
As a former prosecutor, Lausch realizes that sentencing can also be as impactful for defendants as it is for the victims of crimes. It’s a realization that hits home for Lausch, who understands the work of his office affects everyone, which, he said, insures that the mission of keeping justice at he forefront gets completed.
The charge is one that Lausch takes seriously and that makes his appointment even more meaningful for a U.S. attorney living in and serving his home district.
“I wake up every day humbled, but incredibly happy that I have this job,” Lausch said. “It’s one of the things I want people in this office to realize so that they get the support they need.”