Chicago, Illinois: The FBI is reviewing the process that led Chicago prosecutors to drop all charges against actor Jussie Smollett.
Smollett, 36, was accused of staging a phony hate crime against himself and making a false police report in January. Detectives working the case said he paid two brothers to attack him so he could capitalize on sympathy and further his acting career. In a surprise move Tuesday, prosecutors dismissed all 16 felony disorderly conduct charges in exchange for community service and a forfeiture of his $10,000 bond.
President Donald Trump said Thursday the FBI is looking into the case and a law enforcement source told ABC News the same.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!” Trump tweeted.
Trump previously weighed in on the case when Chicago prosecutors first charged Smollett because the actor said the attackers shouted, “this is MAGA country,” a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel strongly opposed dropping charges against Smollett and had said the FBI should get involved.
“He’s saying he’s innocent and his words aren’t true,” Emanuel told ABC News. “They better get their story straight. This is actually making a fool of us.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called it a “just outcome based on the circumstances” and said such a dismissal isn’t uncommon for this class of felony.
“We believe that the facts were sufficient to charge and try Mr. Smollett for the crimes,” Foxx said. “Based on the facts and the evidence that was presented in the charging decision that was made by this office, this office believed that they could prove him guilty.”
She added that Smollett doesn’t have a history of violence, lacks a criminal record and her office would rather focus on violent criminals.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Foxx discussed turning the case over to the FBI earlier this month.
Foxx recused herself from the case last week after speaking with a family member of Smollett, a decision she said she regretted.
“I’ve never had a victim that turned into a suspect,” she said Wednesday, adding that prosecutors offer the same type of benefits to suspects who don’t have money or fame.
WLS-TV obtained an email sent by Cook County prosecutors that looked for precedents set by other cases they could use to drop charges against Smollett.
“We are looking for examples of cases, felony preferable, where we, in exercising our discretion, have entered into verbal agreements with defense attorneys to dismiss charges against an offender if certain conditions were met,” the email reads.
Smollett said he’s been “truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
EARLIER: Chicago police release files in Jussie Smollett case day after charges dropped
Chicago police came out swinging Wednesday and released the full 61-page investigative report in the alleged Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax, one day after charges against the “Empire” star were dramatically dropped — but the move prompted a moot court order.
The release of the documents came one day after Cook County prosecutors dismissed a 16-count indictment against the actor, saying they had cut a deal with the TV star to perform two days of community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city.
The move made it possible for Smollett’s attorneys to get his criminal case immediately sealed and wiped clean.
About an hour after the department released the files, the Chicago police reportedly became subject of a court order that barred them from releasing further files even though they were widely available online.
The dismissal of charges against Smollett over the alleged attack drew a swift backlash from the city’s mayor and police chief and raised questions about why Smollett was not forced to admit what prosecutors had said they could prove in court — that the entire episode was a publicity stunt.
Former Chicago Police Officer Says Smollett Has Been Consistent About One Thing: ‘Lying’Video
The police files – some of which were redacted to remove witness names and personal information – laid out steps taken by detectives to get to the bottom of what happened the night of Jan. 29.
The report revealed new details about the police obtaining a search warrant for Smollett’s iCloud account and then sharing the data with the FBI. The report also provided fresh details about the $3,500 check Smollett wrote to Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. The brothers claimed they were paid to carry out the attack on Smollett, though Smollett said the money was for personal training sessions.
Smollett told police he was attacked around 2 a.m. on his way home from a sandwich shop. He said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and tied a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The news of such heinous allegations quickly garnered national attention.
Soon, though, the tides shifted and investigators accused Smollett of making the whole thing up because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed the publicity garnered from the incident would promote his career.
Wednesday’s released report shed light on some of the behind-the-scenes moves investigators and prosecutors made to interview witnesses and throw off reporters.
EARLIER: Jussie Smollett – Mayor says case makes Chicago look foolish
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel says the sudden move to drop charges against actor Jussie Smollett over a hoax attack has made a fool of the city. The state’s attorney’s office maintains Mr Smollett has not been exonerated, while Mr Smollett’s lawyers say his record has been wiped clean.
“They better get their stories straight because this is actually making a fool of all of us,” the mayor said on Good Morning America.
Police maintain Mr Smollett staged a racist and homophobic attack.
Mr Smollett has insisted throughout that he is innocent of all these allegations.
Speaking on Good Morning America on Wednesday, Mr Emanuel pilloried the Empire actor, saying he “abused the city of Chicago”.
“You have the state’s attorney’s office saying he’s not exonerated, he actually did commit this hoax. He’s saying he’s innocent and his words aren’t true.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 27, 2019
Mr Emanuel says he wants the court records unsealed so that all the evidence gathered by Chicago Police could be seen.
He said he also wants prosecutors to explain why they made such a sudden reversal.
The mayor said police had evidence that Mr Smollett had made up claims that he was attacked on 29 January in downtown Chicago by two masked men who he claimed shouted racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and put a rope round his neck.
So what are prosecutors saying?
Illinois prosecutor Joe Magats made the decision to drop charges against the TV actor on Tuesday in a move that blindsided police – but he maintains that Mr Smollett is guilty.
“Our priority is violent crimes and the drivers of violence,” Mr Magats told reporters. “Jussie Smollett is neither one of those.”
He added that community service and a fine is a common outcome for such a case. When asked if those penalties were sufficient for Mr Smollett, he said: “I feel that it is.”
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney, told reporters that prosecutors “did not exonerate Mr Smollett”, but offered an agreement available “to any defendant with similar circumstances”.
“The charges were dropped in return for Mr Smollett’s agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago.
“Without the completion of these terms, the charges would not have been dropped.”
Police, however, have disagreed, with Supt Eddie Johnson saying if Mr Smollett “wanted to clear his name, the way to do that was in a court of law so that everyone could see the evidence”.
A Chicago police union on Tuesday renewed calls for a federal inquiry looking into what role the state’s prosecutor Kimberly Foxx, who recused herself, played in the case.
In a statement, the Fraternal Order of Police said they are “outraged…but not surprised”.
The union said Ms Foxx had “transformed the prosecutor’s office to a political arm of the anti-police movement”.
The Fraternal Order of Police said their demand was based on reports of texts between Ms Foxx and a former Obama aide about the case.
What’s this about a former Obama aide?
State’s Attorney Ms Foxx recused herself from the Smollett case last month, citing a conflict of interest “based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case”.
According to local media, attorney Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, connected Ms Foxx with Mr Smollett’s family in the days following the alleged attack.
Earlier this month that Ms Tchen had texted Ms Foxx on 1 February that the actor’s family had “concerns about the investigation”.
Ms Foxx later told the Sun-Times that those worries were regarding leaked information about the case from “police sources”, and that the family felt the FBI would keep a “tighter lid on the information”.
Days after the attack, Ms Foxx said she discussed transferring the case to the FBI with Supt Johnson, who she said seemed open to the idea.
She then contacted Ms Tchen and Mr Smollett’s relative to inform them about her call with the superintendent, according to records viewed by the newspaper.
“Spoke to the Superintendent Johnson,” she wrote to Ms Tchen in an email. “I convinced him to reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation. He is reaching out now and will get to me shortly.”
After Ms Foxx sent the relative a similar message, they replied: “OMG this would be a huge victory.”