Just when it seemed the Jussie Smollett case was losing some of its sting for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, it returned with a vengeance Tuesday.
The timing of Special Prosecutor Dan Webb’s new indictment of Smollett, five weeks before Election Day, couldn’t have been worse for Foxx.
And her campaign’s response suggesting the pre-election announcement was part of some Trumpian political conspiracy is her latest fumble of a matter that she just can’t seem to get right.
Once Webb made the determination that the proper course of action was to seek charges against Smollett, what was he supposed to do? Wait until after the election?
If the situation was reversed and Webb had found no reason to bring a case against Smollett, then Foxx and her supporters would certainly have wanted that decision announced before the election, not afterward.
This is always the dilemma involving politically charged cases at election time, and my view holds: Voters deserve to know what investigators and prosecutors know.
In this instance, Webb’s decision to bring new charges against Smollett isn’t nearly as damaging to Foxx as his accompanying statement in which he blows a hole in her original defense that her office handled Smollett’s case using the same criteria as for other defendants in similar circumstances.
Webb said he asked the state’s attorney’s office to provide documentary evidence to back up that assertion.
The state’s attorney “was unable to provide this documentary evidence,” Webb stated.
Webb’s finding speaks directly to the issue raised in the very damaging campaign commercial being aired by one of her opponents, Bill Conway, in which a young African American woman charged with a similar crime as Smollett talks about being treated more harshly than the television actor.
I know the commercial has proved damaging to Foxx because of all the complaints it has prompted from her political backers, and because Conway has doubled down and devoted even more of his father’s money to making sure that it remains the central issue in his campaign.
But despite the Smollett case and the Conway campaign’s expert exploitation of it, my own sense has been that Foxx was weathering the storm and on the path to win re-election.
The Democratic Party has put its collective arms around Foxx and given her its stamp of approval, none of the party’s leaders wanting to be put in the position of abandoning one of their leading African American officeholders who until this had been viewed as a rising star.
Just a few days ago, the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Foxx for re-election, on the basis that her overall record of reforming the office outweighs the bungling of one single high profile case.
I expected that endorsement would give her another boost of momentum, along with a reason for undecided voters to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Now comes Webb with a reason for those undecided voters to look in another direction. Without a doubt, the race will tighten up.
It’s important to note that Webb made no finding that Foxx or anyone else in her office engaged in wrongdoing in connection with the Smollett case and emphasized that the decision to prosecute him is not evidence of any wrongdoing. That speaks to the issue of whether there was improper insider influence on Foxx.
On that score, the special prosecutor “has reached no conclusions,” Webb said.
The problem for Foxx is whether voters will be reaching their own conclusions before he does.