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Foxx kicks off re-election bid — and tiptoes closer to mea culpa in Jussie Smollett case

Foxx also blamed President Trump, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Rifle Association for undercutting “progress” in Cook County in a two-minute kickoff ad.

Actor Jussie Smollett, left; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, right.
Actor Jussie Smollett, left, after prosecutors dropped all charges against him in March; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, right, answers questions from the media in April. File Photos.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has slowly trickled towards admitting she could have handled the Jussie Smollett case better.

And on Tuesday — in announcing her re-election bid — Foxx went further than before.

“Truth is, I didn’t handle it well. I own that,” Foxx says of the investigation in a two-minute digital ad. “I’m making changes in my office to make sure we do better. That’s what reform is about.”

Foxx has been extremely careful about her wording in admitting any problems or responsibility in the handling of the Smollett investigation. Accused of making a false report to police, the former “Empire” actor was indicted in March on 16 counts of disorderly conduct. Weeks later, the state’s attorney’s office abruptly dropped the charges, sparking outrage as well as confusion.

Foxx has endured months of criticism because she discussed the case with one of Smollett’s family members at the urging of Tina Tchen, a Chicago lawyer and activist who had once served as chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama. Foxx publicly stated she had recused herself from Smollett’s case, a decision the state’s attorney had made just days before the actor was charged.

It’s a case that has created instant campaign fodder, and it’s already prompted challengers.

There’s also been an evolution of responses from Foxx. In March, the state’s attorney defended prosecutors’ decision to drop charges: “I think that there is a lot of confusion,” she said on WBEZ, adding there was a “slim” chance Smollett would have received jail time.

At a press conference in August, Foxx called the amount of time spent on the case “unfortunate.” And asked if she had any regrets, Foxx said “I look forward to whatever lessons have been learned and implementing that.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to the City Club in 2018. File Photo.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to the City Club in 2018. File Photo.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

She shifted a bit last month: “I’m not going to say we didn’t make a mistake,” Foxx said at a North Side dinner, according to Politico. “We could have done better. We should have done better. I own that.”

Foxx on Tuesday announced her re-election bid in a digital ad and email to supporters. She also took square aim at the National Rifle Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and President Trump in the two-minute ad.

Foxx said the personal attacks she’s endured over the Smollett investigation are about “stopping progress in Cook County.” And in the ad, Foxx touts her accomplishments, including more violent crimes being prosecuted and more gun crime prosecutions.

“Every day my office is under attack, from a president who uses our city as a punching bag. The NRA, hell bent on letting guns flood our streets. And the FOP, clinging to old ways. They’ll do anything to undercut progress, including attacking me personally over the Jussie Smollett case,” Foxx says.

Earlier this year, the Fraternal Order of Police joined suburban police chiefs in demanding the state’s attorney’s resignation over her handling of the Smollett case. The FOP has also demanded a federal investigation into her handling of the matter. And Trump, as recently as last month blasted the city in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention. Compared to Chicago, “Afghanistan is a safe place” Trump said as he hit Chicago for being a sanctuary city and welcoming immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

And citing an embarrassing chapter for Chicago police, Trump, too, brought up the investigation into Smollett.

“It’s a scam,” Trump said. “It is a real big scam just like the impeachment of your president is a scam.”

And while Foxx tries to distance herself from the controversial case, it may not be out of the headlines just yet. The disputed facts could be aired in a number of other courtrooms. The city under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a civil lawsuit against the actor, demanding that he pay $160,000 spent on police overtime investigating his case. And two brothers who claim Smollett hired them to fake the hate crime attack have sued the actor’s Hollywood lawyers for defamation.

Top row, left-right: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in 2017; Bill Conway and Donna More in 2016. Bottom row, left-right: Republicans Pat O’Brien and Christopher Pfannkuche and actor Jussie Smollett.
Top row, left-right: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in 2017; Bill Conway and Donna More in 2016. Bottom row, left-right: Republicans Pat O’Brien and Christopher Pfannkuche and actor Jussie Smollett. File photos.
Campaign photos and Ashlee Rezin Garcia and Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

The field of challengers to Foxx currently includes: former Cook County Circuit Judge Pat O’Brien, who is running as a Republican; Donna More, a Democrat who sought the seat in 2016; Democrat and former prosecutor Bill Conway and Christopher Pfannkuche, a Republican candidate who also ran in 2016. Many candidates who’ve waded into the field have talked about a lack of trust in the office and pointed to Foxx’s handling of the Smollett case.

But Foxx hopes to focus on other issues. In a fundraising email to supporters, Foxx on Tuesday said she has reduced the number of guns on Chicago streets and Cook County “has become a national model for reform” under her leadership.

“You can take it from me, a girl from Cabrini and a woman standing up to the old boys’ club: We’re on the right path to reforming criminal justice in Cook County,” Foxx wrote.