According to an investigative report by the Chicago Tribune, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was approached by a politically-connected lawyer close to Chicago’s most prominent political families, the Obamas and the Emanuels, on behalf of the city’s star resident, Jussie Smollett.
Smollett made headlines when he claimed he was the victim of a brutal racist and homophobic hate crime outside his Chicago condo on Jan. 29.
Smollett, 36, was arrested on Feb. 20 and charged with felony disorder for lying to police. He was later hit with 16 felony counts. He plead not guilty during a court appearance on March 14.
Chicago Tribune reporters Megan Crepeau and Jeremy Gorner obtained messages exchanged between Kim Foxx and lawyer Tina Tchen, who was chief of staff for former first lady Michelle Obama. Tchen, a good friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, was apparently a go-between for a member of the Smollett family.
The email and text exchanges began Feb. 1, three days after Smollett told police he was beaten by 2 Trump supporters who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him.
In one email, Foxx told Tchen she relayed a message to Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson, pictured left, about dropping the Smollett case and turning it over to the feds.
“Spoke to the Superintendent Johnson. I convinced him to reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation,” Foxx wrote to Tchen.
That same day, Foxx texted Smollett’s relative with good news.
“Spoke to the superintendent earlier, he made the ask,” Foxx wrote. “Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Omg this would be a huge victory,” the Smollett relative replied.
“I make no guarantees, but I’m trying,” Foxx replied.
“I understand,” the Smollett relative typed. “I appreciate the effort.”
That same effort wasn’t afforded to the city’s poor, less politically-connected citizens, noted Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass in his column published on March 15.
“You know who doesn’t get to call Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and text her and have omg moments?” Kass wrote.
“The victims of real crimes, not fake ones. Crimes with real blood and real pain, floating face down in Chicago’s river of violence. Like 1-year-old Dejon Irving, shot in the gang wars just about the time Smollett wanted to become a hero.”
“All Kim Foxx had to say was ‘it’s under investigation. I can’t have this conversation,'” writes Kass.
With the heat turned up high by the Tribune‘s investigative reporters, Foxx’s staff scrambled to contain the damage.
Kiera Ellis, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, said Tchen contacted Foxx on behalf of the Smollett family because they had “concerns about the investigation.”
Ellis said Foxx reached out to Superintendent Johnson when they still believed Smollett was a victim.
“When she initially engaged in the communications, Mr. Smollett was still believed to be the victim of the crime,” Ellis said. “As the investigation started to change and it became a possibility that he could actually be a suspect, that is when she made the decision (to recuse herself).”
According to The Tribune, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi could not verify whether Johnson and Foxx discussed turning the case over to federal agents and refused to ask the superintendent about it.
The released texts between Foxx and the relative stop on Feb. 13, the same day a memo was sent out by Foxx’s chief ethics officer, April Perry, informing staff that Foxx “is recused” from the Smollett investigation. It did not say why.
Foxx publicly recused herself on Feb. 19, the day before charges were filed against Smollett accusing him of staging a hate crime with 2 other individuals because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Fox TV’s soap opera Empire.
Foxx was mocked on Facebook by Anita Alvarez, the former state’s attorney who was easily defeated by Foxx in the 2016 elections.
“Maybe I should have just recused myself from the difficult cases that came across my desk when I was state’s attorney,” Alvarez wrote sarcastically on Facebook. “I was under the impression that when the voters elected me and I took my oath of office it meant I had to do my job.”