President Donald Trump said in a Thursday morning tweet that the Justice Department and the FBI will review charges being dismissed against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!” Trump wrote.
It is not surprising that Trump weighed in, since the case has been getting saturation coverage on national cable outlets, which Trump often watches. Trump also has been a longtime critic of Chicago when it comes to law-and-order issues.
The uproar is over the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropping 16 felony charges of disorderly conduct against Smollett, even though prosecutors said they had enough evidence to convict the actor of staging a hate-crime on himself.
The White House did not provide any details on how the review would proceed and the aspects of the Smollett case to be reviewed.
Later in the day Trump at the White House was asked, “what did the FBI tell you about Jussie Smollett?” The president replied, “I think the case in Chicago is an absolute embarrassment to our country. And I have asked that it be — that they look at it. I think that case is an absolute embarrassment to our country, and somebody has to at least take a very good, hard look at it.”
A Justice Department spokesman did not reply to an e-mail inquiring about the next steps to be taken in the wake of the presidential order for a review. The Chicago office of the FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI’s Washington national press office told the Sun-Times, “we are not going to have any comment on that subject, thank-you for checking.”
FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Rahm to Trump: Butt out
Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Trump should “sit this one out” and announced the city will send Smollett a bill to recoup the costs of the investigations into the allegations of the gay African-American actor that he was the victim of hate crimes.
The mayor argued that Trump forfeited his moral authority to weigh in on the Smollett case with his widely criticized response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that turned violent.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said then.
Appearing live Thursday on Steve Cochran’s morning drive radio program WGN-AM (720), Emanuel said those remarks disqualify Trump from weighing in on the Smollett case.
“President Trump, just sit this one out. … I take umbrage at the fact that, you have a person sitting in the Oval Office who drew a moral equivalency between those who are fighting bigotry and those who are perpetuating bigotry,” said Emanuel, who has done battle with Trump for more than two years.
TIMELINE: The Jussie Smollett investigation
The mayor noted that Chicago is a melting pot and that 140 different languages are spoken in Chicago Public Schools where students are comfortable to be who they are, regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation.
“We have a President in the Oval Office who degrades it when he does not know the difference between somebody willing to use their body and their soul to fight bigotry and make it morally equivalent with those who want to perpetuate it,” Emanuel said, gritting his teeth.
Addressing Trump directly, the mayor said, “Sit it out. We don’t need you. And especially, given that you don’t know how the criminal justice system works and given what happened.” The mayor started to say something about the Mueller report, but stopped himself.
Emanuel noted that Trump was singing a far different tune before the Chicago Police Department concluded that Smollett had masterminded a hate crime hoax.
“You were sitting there lip-syncing with Smollett [that] this was a horrible hate crime. It’s not,” he said of Trump.
As for billing Smollett for the cost of the probe, Emanuel called it “a small way of both acknowledging guilt and, two, that we spent these resources and the taxpayers are deserved, at minimum” restitution.
“And I think there’s a whole level [of] ethical costs because he’s still walking around [saying] `Hey, I’m innocent. Everything I said from day one is true.’ We’re gonna get the resources back. But, come with those resources is, implicitly, if you pay it, that the city spent money to uncover what the grand jury discovered.”
In response to Emanuel’s comments, Smollett’s defense team shot back: “It is the Mayor and the Police Chief who owe Jussie — owe him an apology — for dragging an innocent man’s character through the mud. Jussie has paid enough.”
Smollett attorney: ‘Nothing improper was done’
Smollett’s lawyer Tina Glandian in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show with co-host Savannah Guthrie, asked to react to Trump’s tweet said, “we have nothing to be concerned about.” Glandian added, “To my knowledge, nothing improper was done,” speaking from New York on the set of the show.
She also insisted “there were no conditions” on the charges being dropped.
“He had to do nothing,” Glandian said, adding that Smollett chose to forfeit his $10,000 bond, though “they asked” him to, and prosecutors have said had Smollett refused, the deal was off.
Glandian also was asked why Smollett would have identified one attacker as being white. Both are black.
He only got a look at one of the two men at the time, Glandian said, and that person’s face was mostly covered; Smollett saw only a little skin around the eyes.
“He did tell police it was white or pale skin,” Glandian said, but “you can disguise that.” She added, “‘it took me all of five minutes” on the internet to find a video of one of the brothers “doing a joke or monologue with white makeup on.”
Kevin Graham, president of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, in reaction to Trump’s tweet said in a CNN “New Day” interview with Alisyn Camerota, “I am hopeful that President Trump’s encouragement into this will launch an investigation. That’s what we asked for more than a week ago.”
“If the FBI does do the investigation, and it appears that they are, then we are going to have some resolution to this and find out what exactly happened,” said Graham, speaking from the Illinois State Capitol rotunda in Springfield.
Emanuel says Trump ‘created a toxic environment’
As it turned out, Emanuel was just getting warmed up about Trump.
The mayor lit into the president he loves to hate hours later, after joining XSELL Technologies to announce the company’s commitment to expand its Chicago workforce by 500 employees.
This time, the mayor accused Trump of fanning the flames of racial intolerance — to the point where Smollett thought he could get away with a hate crime hoax.
“My recommendation to the president: Go to opening day baseball. Sit on the sideline. Stay out of this. You created a toxic environment,” Emanuel said.
“That hate-filled environment the president created — pitting one American against another because of their background — then creates an environment [Smollett] thought he could take advantage of and create a hoax around a hate crime. It is a vicious, toxic environment and cycle. I want to break it.”
The mayor then turned to the demand for financial restitution.
“I want clarity. I want accountability. I want responsibility for a hoax that was committed. Not just a financial one. More importantly, a moral and ethical one.”
Durkin wants attorney general to review case
On Wednesday, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called on Democratic Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to review the handling of the case.
In a series of interviews Wednesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx defended the handling of the case, even though she said she had previously recused herself from the prosecution after she talked to a member of Smollett’s family and had urged the case to be transferred to the FBI.
Foxx described the deal that was offered to Smollett as common, but veteran defense attorneys in interviews with the Sun-Times could recall no such similar deals in their decades of practice.
2 attorneys groups slam Foxx, her office
Two organizations of prosecutor attorneys have issued damning critiques of the way the Cook County state’s attorney’s office handled the Smollett case.
In a March 27 statement, the National District Attorneys Association says the organization strongly favors alternatives to jail — but only after the accused has admitted guilt.
“However, the case in Chicago illustrates a point that must be discussed in an effort to ensure fairness in our criminal justice system: the rich are treated differently, the politically connected receive favorable treatment, and Lady Justice sometimes peeks under her blindfold to see who stands before her,” according to the statement. “The NDAA rejects these inequities, as they are antithetical to our founding principles of justice: that no one is above the law.”
The organization, which calls itself the “largest prosecutor organization in the country,” blasted Foxx for failing to recuse her “entire office,” rather than just herself, as she did after it emerged that she’d spoken several times with a relative of the “Empire” actor in the weeks leading up to his arrest.
The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association, representing about 1,000 prosecuting attorneys statewide, said: “The manner in which this case was dismissed was abnormal and unfamiliar to those who practice law in criminal courthouse across the state. . . . Even more problematic, the State’s Attorney and her representatives have fundamentally misled the public on the law and circumstances surrounding the dismissal.”
The state group said a special prosecutor should have been appointed when Foxx recused herself from the Smollett case.
“This irregular arrangement was an affront to prosecutors across the state, the Chicago Police Department, victims of hate crimes, and the people of the City of Chicago and Cook County,” the IPBA stated.
The national association also criticized Foxx for taking “advice from politically connected friends of the accused.” Tina Tchen, a Chicago lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who also served as chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama, had put Foxx in touch with Smollett’s unnamed relative, according to text messages released earlier this month.
Foxx has said she talked with Smollett’s relative about concerns that information about the investigation was being leaked, and the family’s belief that the FBI was less prone to making details of the investigation public. Foxx said this week that she didn’t “want any conversations with that relative” when it became clear Smollett might be a criminal suspect.
Tchen has spoken publicly this week, denying she sought to influence the outcome of the Smollett case.
The NDAA also took Foxx’s office to task for resolving the case without Smollett having to admit “culpability.”
“A case with the consequential effects of Mr. Smollett’s should not be resolved without a finding of guilt or innocence,” according to the statement.
The organization said expunging Smollett’s record now, as his lawyers had planned to do: “is counter to transparency. Law enforcement will now not be able to acknowledge that Mr. Smollett was indicted and charged with these horrible crimes and the full record of what occurred will be forever hidden from public view.”
Call from the County Board
Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison on Thursday called on Foxx to explain herself before the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
“I’m aware we can’t compel her to speak to us, but the Cook County Board does control her budget, but this transcends beyond that,” said Morrison, R-Palos Park.
“Look at the outcry of the last 24 to 48 hours — the residents of Cook County have lost trust in [Foxx] and I think it’s in her best interest to come before us and clear this up.”
Morrison, who is chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, says the goal is to get Foxx in front of the board at its April meeting.
Foxx’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.
FOP plans protest
The union that represents Chicago police officers is organizing a protest at 11 a.m. Monday outside of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, 69 W. Washington St.
“We’re going to protest the way this case was handled and how several other cases were handled,” said Patrick Murray, first vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.
Murray said the union believes Foxx never “fully recused” herself from the Smollett case.
Contributing: Jon Seidel, Andy Grimm, Rachel Hinton and Matthew Hendrickson