President Donald Trump tweeted early on Thursday that the FBI and Department of Justice would review the handling of the Jussie Smollett case in Chicago, calling it “outrageous” and “an embarrassment to our Nation!”
FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019
Federal authorities have already probed the Smollett case: A week before Smollett reported what police say was a hoax hate attack in the Streeterville neighborhood, he turned over a threatening and anti-gay letter laced with a harmless white powder he received at the “Empire” production studios. The feds typically have jurisdiction over crimes involving the United States Postal Service.
Representatives of the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service declined to comment on Wednesday as to whether their investigation was continuing, which is routine.
The letter was delivered to 1445 S. Rockwell St., where the hit show just wrapped filming for Season 5.
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie 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 letter, in a white envelope, 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.
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.
Charlie J. Johnson contributed
© 2019 the Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC