Illinois’ U.S. Senators urge Biden to keep public corruption-fighting prosecutor

Illinois’ U.S. Senators urge Biden to keep public corruption-fighting prosecutor

Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke are among the politicians curbed by Chicago’s current U.S. Attorney. A bipartisan group is trying to keep him in place to continue public corruption prosecutions.

Both U.S. Senators from Illinois are asking President Joe Biden to leave Chicago’s U.S. attorney in place so he can continue pursuing the corruption cases that so far have targeted Chicago’s most powerful alderman and the longest-serving Statehouse leader in U.S. history.

Chicago-based U.S. Attorney John Lausch was asked Feb. 9 by Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to submit his resignation by the end of the month, along with the remaining Trump-era appointees. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, immediately objected along with four Republican U.S. House members and the state Republican party.

On Feb. 10 the senators increased the heat, sending Biden a letter outlining the importance of keeping Lausch in place to continue pursuing public corruption, at least until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Durbin is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct those confirmation hearings. Duckworth was a potential Biden running mate.

The federal probe by Lausch’s office uncovered the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s implication in the $1.3 million effort by the utility to curry his favor on legislation with no-work contracts and jobs for his political cronies damaged him and became a major factor in his ouster Jan. 13 as House leader after 36 years. ComEd admitted to bribery and agreed to a $200 million fine. Former ComEd executives and some of Madigan’s inner circle were indicted as a result of Lausch’s prosecutions.

Both Durbin and Duckworth said abruptly changing the prosecutor presiding over the case could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the ComEd investigation.

“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,” the senators said. “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’s public corruption investigations also led to the 14-count indictment of Ald. Edward M. Burke in May 2019. Burke is Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, and the indictment cost him control of the city’s finances and with it the city’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program. A lawsuit claimed Burke used the workers’ comp program for patronage hires including a dog groomer, hairstylist and waitress with no experience administering a workers’ comp program.

State Sen. Thomas Cullerton, former state Sens. Terry Link and Martin Sandoval, former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, former Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski and Crestwood Major Louis Presta were among the other elected officials to face criminal charges under Lausch.

Lausch was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the U.S. Attorney position in 2017. He and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot served together for decades as federal prosecutors.

U.S. House Republicans Adam Kinzinger, Darin LaHood, Rodney Davis and Mary Miller also released a statement backing Lausch as well as U.S. Attorney John Milhiser of the Central District of Illinois. Milhiser is prosecuting former state Sen. Sam McCann for fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing Feb. 9 that requesting U.S. attorneys to resign at the start of a new presidency has been “commonplace among previous administrations, and we look forward to working with the Senate to swiftly fill these openings in the coming weeks. The President has also made clear he wants to restore the independence of the Department of Justice and to ensure it remains free of any undue political influence.”

In their letter to Biden, Durbin and Duckworth addressed that issue, saying Lausch, “has served with professionalism and without partisanship, including in his handling of highly sensitive investigations… We reiterate today that John Lausch should be permitted to remain in place until the confirmation of his successor.”

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