U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. has made waves with some pretty high-profile prosecutions, including that of the City Council’s longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke. But he’s done his job with little fanfare and no press conferences announcing such public corruption cases.
Lausch and the Department of Justice have also focused staff and resources on reducing the cycle of gun violence. On Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr announced a new anti-gun initiative called Project Guardian.
Below, an edited Q&A with Lausch.
Federal gun arrests are up nearly 50% this year. Is that having an impact on the homicide rate?
I would like to hope that it is. I mean, our focus in doing that is really a response to what we’re seeing on the streets. We’re seeing individuals possessing, using and transferring firearms in a way that this is leading to a lot of the violence. And so we focused on more individual gun prosecutions than we had in the past.
We also we set up what we called gun prosecution teams, and we did that with some additional resources we received from the Justice Department. And we’ve essentially embedded certain assistant U.S. attorneys in certain police districts of the city to work directly with the police commanders and their team, an ATF agent and their team and also the state attorney’s office to really focus on every gun case that might come across, you know, a police officer’s desk in that district and really to do those cases effectively and efficiently.
There are hundreds of shooting incidents in Chicago every year. Not all of them are going to be federal cases. How do you decide which cases are charged?
A lot of the offenses have the potential to be federal. We work very closely with the police department, with ATF and with the state’s attorney’s office, to really figure out where’s the best place for this case to go. I mean, sometimes actually the state statute is more powerful than the federal statutes for certain gun possession offenses. And so we just work with them to really take a look at the evidence, look at the offender, look at their criminal history, the nature of this particular incident in which we were able to recover the gun and determine, is it better that this case goes to federal versus state? And what we’re looking for there is ultimately holding that offender accountable.
You’ve had a close relationship with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson over the last couple of years. Do you know anything about his interim replacement, former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck? Do you expect the same kind of cooperation?
I do. I actually chatted with him very briefly on Friday. I’m looking forward to working with him. I gave him my phone number so he can call 24/7, just like Superintendent Johnson. We are fully engaged in this battle to try and keep people in Chicago safe. So I look forward to working with another friend.
Your office has been very busy on public corruption cases, including the 14-count indictment of Ald. Ed Burke and charges against former state Rep. Louis Arroyo. You, unlike your predecessors, have refrained from giving press conferences or public comments about these cases. Why is that? Is there a renewed focus on public corruption?
I think the facts of the cases, you know, when we charge them, they speak for themselves. I think there’s always been a focus on public corruption cases and violent crime cases under my tenure and under Zach Fardon’s and Pat Fitzgerald and Scott Lassar who initially hired me into the office. And so I don’t really called it a renewed focus, but like I said, we are busy.
What these cases have in common is allegations that public officials are using their public perch for some kind of private benefit. Is that at the heart of the corruption you want to root out?
I mean, people want a fair shake, right? I mean, people in Chicago, they want to see things done in a fair and open and transparent way. And so, you know, when we do have situations – and I’m not talking about a specific case – but when we do have situations where people are using their public office for their private gain, that’s something that we’re going to take a close look at with our law enforcement partners.