Trump tweets that FBI and Justice Department will look into Jussie Smollett case in Chicago

Chicago Tribune

President Donald Trump tweeted early Thursday that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice would review the Jussie Smollett case, calling it "outrageous" and "an embarrassment to our Nation!"

Trump did not say exactly what the agencies would look into, but the Fraternal Order of Police and others have been calling for a federal investigation into State's Attorney Kim Foxx's handling of the case involving the “Empire” actor.


Smollett initially said he was attacked in Streeterville by two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs, but police said he staged the assault to boost his career.

During the police investigation, Foxx reached out to a relative of Smollett concerned about leaks, and then contacted Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Weeks later, Foxx said she recused herself from the case not long before Smollett was charged with filing a false police report.

Smollett was later indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct on charges he staged the attack, but in a sudden reversal Tuesday, prosecutors dropped all the charges at an unannounced court hearing. Foxx insisted she had no role in the dismissal but defended the move, saying her office often handles cases in a similar fashion for defendants with nonviolent backgrounds — an assertion that a number of Chicago attorneys contacted by the Tribune disputed.

Foxx told the Tribune on Wednesday she would never have gotten involved if she knew Smollett would later be deemed a suspect and not a victim. “I’ve never had a victim that turned into a suspect,” she said. "In hindsight as we see (how) all of it has played out, you know, is there regret that I engaged with the family member? Absolutely."

The FBI has already been looking into part of the Smollett case: a threatening letter the actor said he got a week before the attack. Johnson has said the letter is as phony as the attack, which he said Smollett staged when the letter got no publicity. But federal officials have yet to say anything publicly about the letter or possible charges.

The FBI typically has jurisdiction over crimes involving the U.S. Postal Service. Representatives of the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service declined to comment Wednesday.

The letter, in a white envelope, was delivered Jan. 22 to a Fox production studio at 1445 S. Rockwell St., where "Empire" is filmed. The letter was addressed to Smollett in large, childish handwriting with “MAGA” written in the left corner, an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.

Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18, four days earlier, and bore two American flag stamps.

Smollett told police he and the show’s executive producer used gloves to open the envelope. The letter inside depicted a message from letters cut out of a magazine, with a racist and homophobic death threat accompanied by a drawing. The letter contained white powder that was later determined to be crushed pain reliever.

A week later, on Jan. 29, Smollett reported he was attacked by two masked men who hit him, placed a noose around his neck and poured a liquid on him as he walked to his apartment around 2 a.m.

But within a month, Smollett was arrested and charged with paying two brothers to stage the attack. The brothers began cooperating after authorities picked them up at O’Hare International Airport on Feb. 13 as they returned from Nigeria.

Chicago Police Department case files released Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request indicate detectives asked the brothers about the letter during an interview at the South Loop Hotel on Feb. 18. “Both stated they had absolutely nothing to do with that letter,” the report says. “Both were emphatic about the denial.”

A federal agent assigned as a task force officer was also involved in the investigation, the case files indicate, though the Chicago Police Department often works with federal authorities in such cases.

The agent got copies of search warrants issued against Smollett, was present when the brothers were questioned and was at the police station when Smollett was arrested. The agent also helped to sneak the brothers into the criminal courthouse for a grand jury appearance.

Chicago Tribune’s Charlie J. Johnson contributed.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

mabuckley@chicagotribune.com

MORE COVERAGE

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