CHICAGO – After being contacted by a former senior Obama administration official, the Chicago-area’s top prosecutor last month requested that the city police turn over their investigation of an alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett to the FBI, according to texts and emails released by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Tina Tchen, who worked as former first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff during her time in the White House, first contacted Kim Foxx by text on Feb. 1 and said the actor’s family had “concerns” about the investigation, according to the communications. Tchen, a Chicago-based attorney, is also the co-founder of the Times Up Legal Defense Fund.
At the time of the correspondence, Smollett was still considered by police to be the victim of an assault. The actor was later charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false report for allegedly staging an attack to make him look like the victim of a brutal hate crime.
“Spoke to the Superintendent Johnson,” Foxx emailed Tchen on Feb. 1, referring to the city’s top cop, Eddie Johnson. “I convinced him to Reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation.”
Foxx also texted with one of Smollett’s relatives, whose name was redacted in copies of the communication released by her office.
“Spoke to the superintendent earlier, he made the ask,” Foxx wrote. “Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted.”
The relative responded, “Omg this would be a huge victory.”
“I make no guarantees, but I’m trying,” Foxx replied back.
Foxx recused herself from the investigation before Smollett was charged. Her first deputy, Joe Magats, is overseeing the case.
Foxx said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that Smollett’s family was concerned that aspects of the police investigation were being leaked to media.
“They had no doubt about the quality of the investigation, but believed that the FBI would have a tighter lid on the information,” Foxx told the outlet.
Johnson said in an interview with USA TODAY that he told Foxx he was “amenable” to conversations about having the FBI take the lead in the Smollett investigation. But ultimately, police and federal officials determined it was most appropriate that the investigation continue to be led by Chicago Police. The FBI had been providing city police with technical assistance since soon after it launched its investigation.
“I did speak to the FBI because they handle hate crimes,” Johnson said. “We had conversations about it, but at the end of the day it stayed where it should have, in my opinion.”
Tchen did not respond to a request for comment.
A grand jury indicted Smollett last week on 16 felony counts, accusing him of staging a racist and homophobic attack by two masked men near his Chicago apartment.
Police allege that Smollett, who is black and gay, staged the Jan. 29 attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to bolster his profile.
He told police that two assailants beat him and threw a rope around his neck while hurling racial and anti-gay slurs at him. Smollett also told police that one of the attackers also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.
Police arrested two men, brothers who knew Smollett and had worked with him on “Empire,” weeks after the incident and identified them as suspects. They later released the brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, without charge.
The brothers told police that Smollett plotted the assault, gave them money to purchase supplies for the ruse and paid them $3,500 for taking part in the alleged plot.
Smollett is free on $100,000 bond. He’s scheduled to appear in court Thursday.
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