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DOJ's Legal Star Prosecutor Started as a Janitor?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference to announce money laundering charges against HSBC on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. HSBC Holdings plc and HSBC USA NA have agreed to pay $1.92 billion and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in regards to charges involving money laundering with Mexican drug cartels. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)
By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Zachary Terwilliger started at the Department of Justice mopping floors -- but not really as a janitor.

It was 1999, and he was a high school intern at the office in Alexandria, Virginia. He used to mop floors and stack boxes at the office where 140 federal prosecutors worked. Now he may do the heavy lifting in the prosecution of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder highlighted in the Russian interference investigation. It just goes to show you, there's a lot of mopping up to do after the Mueller report.

A WikiLeaks Case

National Public Radio said "one of the most intriguing parts" of the special counsel report involves Assange, who faces a conspiracy charge for an unrelated hack. Assange is expected to appear in court on May 2 and Terwilliger will likely head up the prosecution. He told NPR that he feels comfortable in his role at the Justice Department. "For me, this really is home," he said.

It makes sense. His father was a deputy attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush. But, Terwilliger said, he decided to become a prosecutor after watching the trial of two gang members who stabbed a witness and left her to die. "If I'm going to work this hard to study the law and become a lawyer, that's where I want to put my efforts," he said on the NPR podcast.

A 'Genuine' Prosecutor

Colleagues call Terwilliger "genuine." He really cares about his colleagues -- not only the mission, said Alice Fisher, who tried to hire him when she ran the Justice Department's criminal division. In August 2018, he was sworn in as U.S. attorney in Alexandria. It is an historic post, dating back to 1789. John Marshall was the first U.S. attorney there, and he went on to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Assange case promises to be historic in another sense. Post-Mueller, it is the highest-profile prosecution. It could also lead to more. "The Justice Department and Lady Justice herself are patient, so we'll watch this process play out, but I for one am happy that it's starting," he said in an interview.

It's like his career. After mopping up at the Justice Department 20 years ago, he's getting started on the biggest job of his life.

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