CRIME

Chicago Prosecutors' Texts Over Jussie Smollett Case Reveal Frustration

The exchanges also show that State's Attorney Kim Foxx communicated with her team about the "Empire" actor even after she recused herself from his case.

The state’s attorney’s office in Chicago was not prepared for the response over the handling of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s allegedly false hate crime report, according to thousands of text messages obtained by HuffPost.

After recusing herself from the case, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called Smollett a “washed up celeb” and criticized the number of charges that were filed against him.

“So......I’m recused but when people accuse of overcharging cases ... 16 counts on a class 4 [felony] becomes exhibit A,” Foxx said in a text message to First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats on March 8. She sent the message on the same day a grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts accusing him of faking a hate crime against himself. 

“Pedophile with 4 victims 10 counts,” Foxx continued, referencing the criminal sexual abuse charges that were filed against accused pedophile R. Kelly two weeks earlier. “Washed up celeb who lied to cops, 16 counts.”

“On a case eligible for deferred prosecution I think it’s indicative of something we should be looking at generally,” she said. “Just because we can charge something doesn’t mean we should.”

“It’s not who we want to be,” she later added.

The text messages, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request,  also show that Foxx continued to consult with her team even though she informally recused herself from Smollett’s case. She announced she would no longer be involved in the case after her office revealed she had ties to potential witnesses, a spokesperson told NBC News at the time. Her recusal made Magats the acting state’s attorney for Smollett’s case. 

In a statement to CNN on Tuesday night, Foxx defended her communication with Magats and her team after her recusal.

Foxx said she reached out to Magats “to discuss reviewing office policies to assure consistencies in our charging and our use of appropriate charging authority.”

“I was elected to bring criminal justice reform, and that includes intentionality, consistency and discretion. I will continue to uphold these guiding principles,” Foxx said on CNN.

The charges against Smollett were dropped March 26, sparking outrage and eliciting rebukes from Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel called it a “whitewash of justice” and claimed that Smollett was being “let off scot-free” because he was famous. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters that he didn’t think justice had been served and said, “I think this city is still owed an apology” from Smollett.

The text messages between Foxx and others in the state’s attorney’s communications team released Tuesday night show that the office was unprepared for the backlash. 

In a text message sent on the day the charges were dropped, Foxx said she told Johnson that they were dismissed because he had reached a deferred prosecution agreement. As part of the agreement, Foxx said, the actor paid ”$10k restitution to the city, and completed community service.”

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx speaks at a news conference Feb. 22 as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stan
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx speaks at a news conference Feb. 22 as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stands by in Chicago. Johnson said after charges were dropped that Jussie Smollett should apologize to the city.

The state’s attorney’s office also appeared to be annoyed by media reports that suggested it had agreed to seal Smollett’s court file without explanation.

“We did not agree to seal the court file,” Kiera Ellis, director of external affairs for the state attorney, said in a text response to one such news article. “An immediate sealing of his record according to law was granted...sheesh.”

As criticism over the dropped charges continued, Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier sent a message to Magats expressing some frustration with the response. 

“Just wish I could have anticipated the magnitude of this response and planned a bit better,” she wrote.

“There’s really no planning for this. It’s the right decision,” Magats wrote back. 

Foxx requested that the Cook County inspector general open an investigation into her office’s handling of Smollett’s case, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. 

“Ensuring that I and my office have the community’s trust and confidence is paramount to me, which is why I invited an independent review of this matter,” Foxx said in a statement last week. “I welcome this investigation and pledge my full cooperation and the cooperation of my office as IG [Patrick] Blanchard conducts his review.”

Sam Levine contributed to this report.

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