‘I’m just a regular guy’ says new U.S. attorney
William McSwain, of West Chester, will serve as U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA » Before he was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, before he was a white collar defense attorney in Philadelphia, before he was an assistant prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice, before he was a law clerk for U.S. Circuit Judge Midge Rendell, before he was a Harvard Law School graduate or a husband of his high school best friend or a U.S. Marine or a Yale University student, Willam McSwain was a high school kid watching the West Chester University Golden Rams football team playing away games with his close friend, Jack Yoder.
Yoder was the youngest child of Dick Yoder, then the WCU athletic director and later two-term
mayor of West Chester, and a man who had a tremendous impact on the young McSwain’s life and career.
On Monday, as he prepared to be formally sworn in as U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, McSwain took the opportunity to remember the role that Yoder played in his life, and how the connection with his childhood — and adult — home remains to this day.
Today McSwain will appear at an investiture ceremony at the U.S. District Courthouse in Philadelphia. Attending will be the two U.S. Senators from Pennsylvania who supported his nomination to the position, Robert Casey and Pat Toomey, as well as Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Doing the honors of helping swear McSwain in will be Rendell, now a senior judge on the Third Circuit bench.
Yoder, who passed away suddenly in 2016, will not be in the audience, but one imagines he will not be far from McSwain’s thoughts.
“He was a person of very high moral character, and was a great father and a great husband,” McSwain said in an interview in the U.S. Attorney’s Office overlooking Independence Hall. Yoder’s military service — he was a Marine — inspired the young McSwain to enlist after college, and the dedication that Yoder showed to public service, either as an educator or
as mayor, reinforced that spark within him.
“I really appreciated all that he did for the town and the example he set,” he said. “It was such a shock when Dick died. Nobody expected it. That was a terrible loss for his family, but it was also a shock to the community. He was always very vigorous.
“To me West Chester will always be Dick Yoder. He represents the best of West Chester. Someone I was proud to be associated with, someone who inspired me. He definitely influenced me.
“At my core, I’m just a regular person, a regular guy, hopefully with the kind of community values that people in West Chester and Chester County share and can be proud of. I think that hopefully people in the community don’t think of me any differently than they did before,” he said.
“At the same time I’ve always been a pretty serious, driven person professionally. I like to be clear what I believe in, and I want to promote the values that I think are important. I think people probably recognized that, saw that in me, when I was growing up as a kid in Chester County. Maybe it’s not too surprising to some folks that I became the U.S. Attorney.”
“But I want people to know that I’m still the same person who grew up in West Chester and still lives there today.”
McSwain takes over the Philadelphia office at a time when the Department of Justice is under scrutiny
and not a little criticism in Washington by those who believe that partisan politics has infected its decision-making. McSwain, who first came to the office in 2003, disputed that perception and vowed that such considerations would not cross his door.
“There is a long, proud tradition in the Department of Justice that politics should not play any role in the decisions you make when you are enforcing the law,” he said in the interview. “You have to respect the law, and that is a bedrock principle in the department. If I were to define it in lay terms, I would say that the law needs to be fairly and consistently applied, and applied in a nonpartisan manner. Now, that doesn’t mean that the department just exists in a vacuum. Certainly there are priorities that each administration has and the Attorney General has.
“Those priorities are communicated to the field,” he continued. “It’s not like it doesn’t matter who the president is, or what party is in power. But within those priorities the underlying value is that the law is still going to be applied in a fair, consistent manner, where political considerations are not impacting day to day considerations on cases. That is something that is a very strong deal in the DOJ and the U.S. Attorneys offices.
“When I was an assistant in the U.S. Attorneys Office, we were simply doing our best to keep the community safe and doing our best to enforce the law. And to hold ourselves to the highest possible standard. That’s true today. There is no other consideration, that what is right, not what is politically expedient.”
McSwain, 49, lives in West Chester with his wife, Stephanie, whom he has known since he was in fourth grade at Mary C. Howse Elementary School. His children — sons Connor, Brady, and Billy, and daughter Nancy — are either graduates of or students at West Chester Area School District schools, and his parents, Holland and Lucy, and in-laws, Bill and Nancy Pollock, still live in the area.
For that, he considers himself lucky.
“I grew up with middle class values and was educated in public schools. I am naturally a patriotic sort of person. I feel like my time working for the government is an extension of what motivated me to join the Marines, using my talents and experience in a way to serve my country.
“As soon as a I graduated from law school I wanted to work for the government,” he said. “I wanted to represent the United States. I always hoped I’d have the opportunity to come back. Fortunately, things have worked out. I consider this my dream job. This is something that I always hoped would occur. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity.”