Chicago, IL – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly launched their own investigation on Wednesday into the circumstances behind Chicago prosecutors’ secret deal to drop the charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
Smollett was charged with staging a hoax attack on himself on Jan. 29 and making a false report of a hate crime to the Chicago Police Department.
But then suddenly, without any prior notification to the Chicago mayor or police chief, all 16 felony disorderly conduct charges against the actor were dropped on Tuesday, opening up speculation about special treatment for Smollett, WLS reported.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter via Twitter on Thursday morning and said federal authorities were going to investigate what happened.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!” President Trump tweeted.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said the charges of lying to the police had been dropped in exchange for restitution in the form of giving up his $10,000 bail and performing 16 hours of community service for the Reverend Jessie Jackson’s charity.
But even as the prosecutor’s office claimed there was nothing unusual about deferred action in a case like Smollett’s, WLS reported that staff in the state’s attorney’s office was scrambling to find similar examples to use in their own defense.
“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, such as the payment of restitution, completion of community service, completion of class, etc., but the defendant was not placed in a formal diversion program,” read a memo that was circulated in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office on Wednesday, according to WLS.
“Please ask your [assistant state’s attorneys] if they have examples of these types of dispositions and we will work with them further to figure out on what case it was done,” the memo continued. “Nobody is in trouble, we are just looking for further examples of how we, as prosecutors, use our discretion in a way that restores the victim, but causes minimal harm to the defendant in the long term.”
Smollett and his attorneys staged a celebratory press conference outside the courthouse after the emergency hearing when his charges were dropped on Tuesday and once again declared his innocence.
The actor’s team said Smollett’s record would be completely cleared. A judge ordered his file sealed.
Tina Glandian, one of Smollett’s attorneys, appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday and said the charges had been dropped because the prosecutors couldn’t prove them, WLS reported.
"I think if they believed the charges they never would have dismissed the case," Glandian said. "It's such a high-profile matter. Everyone has been talking about it. Obviously it's made national headlines... They could have proceeded in a variety of ways. We were ready to move forward. We appeared in court, we pled not guilty. We were ready to fight the charges and they're ones who voluntarily discontinued the matter so I think that speaks volumes."
But the prosecutor who brought charges against Smollett said they weren’t dropped because the actor is innocent.
“I do not believe he is innocent,” First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told WBBM.
Magats, who took over the case when Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had to recuse herself for attempting to help his family get the investigation transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he was the one who made the decision to drop the 16 felony counts against Smollett.
“Based on all facts and circumstances of the case, and also keeping in mind resources and keeping in mind that the office’s number one priority is to combat violent crime and the drivers of violence, I decided to offer this disposition in the case,” he said.
Magats issued further statements later in the day to clarify his position on Smollett's innocence, or lack thereof, and explain his decision to dismiss the charges.
"Here's the thing -- we work to prioritize violent crime and the drivers of violent crime. Public safety is our number one priority. I don't see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety," he said, according to a tweet from the New York Times.
But now Foxx is under heavy fire for her office’s decision to let Smollett get off pretty much scot free, especially after her office announced that she had not officially recused herself from the Smollett case but had only done so “colloquially,” the New York Post reported.
Just a few days after Smollett reported the staged attack on him to police, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, Tina Tchen, contacted Foxx for the Smolletts, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“I wanted to give you a call on behalf of Jussie Smollett and family who I know. They have concerns about the investigation,” Tchen texted to Foxx on Feb. 1.
Text message records showed that Tchen had given Foxx’s phone number to a family member of Smollett, and that person also texted the state’s attorney, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Foxx said the family had no concern about the quality of the investigation by the Chicago police, but felt there would be fewer leaks if the investigation was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The state’s attorney agreed to ask Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to refer the investigation to the FBI and texted both Tchen and the family member back to confirm that she had, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“Spoke to the superintendent earlier. He is going to make the ask. Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted,” Foxx texted the relative that evening.
“OMG this would be a huge victory,” the relative replied.
“Spoke to the Superintendent Johnson,” Foxx texted Tchen the same day. “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.”
But Chicago Police Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the FBI had been involved in the investigation of an alleged hate crime against Smollett from the beginning, but that Superintendent Johnson had never even considered handing over the case to the feds.
Despite Foxx’s earlier assertion that she had taken herself out of the mix, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office clarified that she had not done so formally.
Cook County State's Attorney Spokeswoman Kiera Ellis told the Chicago Patch in a written statement that Foxx "did not formally recuse herself or the [State's Attorney] Office based on any actual conflict of interest. As a result, she did not have to seek the appointment of a special prosecutor."
Ellis said that Foxx’s public announcement of her recusal “was a colloquial use of the term rather than in its legal sense," the Chicago Patch reported.
"Instead, in an abundance of caution, [Foxx] informally separated herself from the decision-making over the case and left it to her Assistants, as happens in 99.9% of all cases handled by the Office,” Ellis explained.
State law requires that "the court shall appoint a special prosecutor" after a state's attorney recuses herself on a case, according to the Chicago Patch.
The Chicago police union called for an investigation into Foxx’s interference in the Smollett case on March 19, and again after the charges against the actor were dropped.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said he had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s attorney and also a hoax threat letter purportedly received by Smollett a week before he staged his attack, CNN reported.
"We're doubling down on that. We want to make sure that the Justice Department takes a very hard look with that case and what went on today," Graham said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson were furious the charges had been dropped against Smollett and said the prosecutor’s office did not discuss the decision with them.
Both city leaders appeared at a press conference Tuesday afternoon on Navy Pier shortly after the conclusion of police academy graduation and shared their opinions that the investigation against Smollett had been solid and they stood behind it.
Superintendent Johnson characterized the disposition of the case against Smollett as brokering “a deal to circumvent the judicial system.”
Emanuel repeatedly called the situation a “whitewash of justice” and said Smollett was getting special treatment because he is an actor.