CHICAGO (CBS) — President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday morning on the Jussie Smollett case, after Cook County prosecutors dropped charges against the “Empire” actor, tweeting that the FBI and Justice Department would investigate the handling of the case.
“It is an embarrassment to our Nation!” the president wrote.
The FBI’s Chicago office declined to comment. The Department of Justice also declined comment.
On Tuesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dismissed the case against Smollett, who had been indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct, accused of orchestrating a hoax hate crime against himself to further his career.
Prosecutors have said they stand by the decision to file the indictment, but said they agreed to drop charges because Smollett has no previous violent criminal history, agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bail, and performed 16 hours of community service.
“I do not believe he is innocent,” said First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who oversaw the case after State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself.
Magats and Foxx both have said prosecutors would not have dropped charges if Smollett had not agreed to forfeit his bail and perform community service. Foxx said her office routinely disposes of low-level felony cases without requiring defendants to plead guilty through “alternative prosecution.”
According to Foxx, during her tenure since taking office in December 2016, her office has disposed of 5,700 felony cases through alternative prosecution.
“This was an outcome that was not unexpected,” she said. “I think the way that it happened so quickly, people were taken aback by; but if we look at other disorderly conduct cases, and we look at how those cases were handled by our office, this outcome was not unexpected.”
However, when CBS 2 asked for specific examples of similar cases where all felony charges were dropped against a defendant, it took the prosecutor’s office an entire business day to produce just two cases that do not appear to be similar to the Smollett case.
Interestingly, CBS 2 obtained an internal email from the state’s attorney’s office, asking staffers to find comparable felony cases in which they dropped charges under similar conditions.
Foxx noted Smollett would have faced a maximum $10,000 fine under state law if prosecutors had taken him to trial, and was unlikely to face jail time given his clean record.
Foxx recused herself from the case a week before Smollett was charged, while police still officially considered him a victim of a hate crime. According to published reports, Foxx tried to persuade Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to hand over the investigation to the FBI, after a supporter of Smollett reached out to her.
Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama, reportedly emailed Foxx saying Smollett’s family was concerned about the police investigation. She also later reportedly texted with a relative of Smollett’s and told them she convinced Johnson to reach out to the FBI.
Foxx said, at the time of those exchanges, Smollett was still considered a victim in the case. She said she recused herself from the case before Smollett was charged, and had no further contact with Smollett, his family, or anyone representing him after his arrest.
“At the time that I spoke to the family member, the superintendent knew that I had spoken to the family member. I had shared with him the conversations that we had, and the concerns that they had, and it was the same day that the superintendent went on television and affirmed that Jussie Smollett, at the time, was a victim, and had no reason at that time to suggest otherwise.”
Foxx denied that Tchen or the Obamas tried to convince her to drop the case.
“There was no attempt, whatsoever, to influence the outcome of this case. None whatsoever,” she said.
In a statement, Tchen stated her only contact with Foxx was to put her in touch with Smollett’s family.
“I know members of the Smollett family based on prior work together. Shortly after Mr. Smollett reported he was attacked, as a family friend, I contacted Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who I also know from prior work together. My sole activity was to put the chief prosecutor in the case in touch with an alleged victim’s family who had concerns about how the investigation was being characterized in public,” Tchen stated.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson both have criticized the decision to drop charges against Smollett. The mayor called the decision “a whitewash of justice” that appeared to give a celebrity preferential treatment.
Smollett’s legal team released a statement Wednesday night stating they are disappointed city officials “have continued their campaign against Jussie Smollett after the charges against him have been dropped.”
“We should all allow Mr. Smollett to move on with his life as a free citizen,” attorney Patricia Brown Holmes stated.