Tuesday morning, the Cook County State's Attorney's office announced that they'd dropped all 17 charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett in an odd "plea deal," allowing Smollett to escape trial on accusations that he orchestrated a false hate crime against himself and lied to Chicago police investigators, for 16 hours of community service and the $10,000 he put up as bond.
The State's Attorney's office insisted late Tuesday that the deal did not "exonerate" Smollett, but not until after the exchange drew criticism from commentators, Chicagoans, the city's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. The latter two excoriated the State's Attorney's decision, calling the matter a "whitewash of justice."
Although Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx claims to have recused herself from the case, the issue put her and her administration squarely in the spotlight. Tuesday evening, the Fraternal Order of Police delivered a letter to the United States Attorney's office in Chicago, asking federal prosecutors to examine Foxx's office and the deal her underlings struck with Smollett's attorneys for legality.
So who is Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx? A career litigator who rose to power in a bizarre city election, funded by progressive dark money groups, and deeply entrenched in the Chicago political machine. And now, she may be in trouble.
1. Foxx won office in 2016 on a "reform" platform after her predecessor bungled the Laquan McDonald case.
Foxx won office in 2016, unseating former Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who lost popularity over her handling of the now-infamous Laquan McDonald murder.
McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The case, which involved a video of the incident, was largely kept under wraps and handled internally by Alvarez's office. Alvarez eventually charged Van Dyke, but not until over a year after the shooting. The delay led Chicago activists to claim Alvarez and her colleagues in City Hall had conspired to cover up McDonald's murder.
"Foxx, a onetime chief of staff to the county board president, was among the strongest critics of Alvarez over the Laquan McDonald shooting," WBEZ reported just before the election. Foxx eventually defeated Alvarez with a whopping 58% percent of the vote. Van Dyke was eventually convicted of murdering McDonald, though he was sentenced to only a minimal stay in prison.
Foxx's agenda is nothing short of a progressive dream. She campaigned on "reform," and has pursued stricter regulations on police officers, placed limitations on issuing certain charges and implementing strict bonds, and has refused to jail even some violent offenders in an effort to lessen Chicago's incarcerated population.
She pledged to turn Chicago into a "reform model" for the country, and touts herself on her own website as "the lead architect of the county’s criminal justice reform agenda to address racial disparities in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.”
2. She's deeply entrenched in Chicago's political machine.
Foxx is nothing if not well-connected. She grew up in the city and went to law school at Southern Illinois University. After graduation, she served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for more than a decade before entering politics. In the early 2010s, she served as the chief of staff for Cook County Board president and current mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle, herself heavily entrenched in Chicago politics.
Preckwinkle is affiliated with some of Chicago's most notorious political characters, including Alderman Ed Burke, who after several decades in office is facing federal charges of extortion. As part of his scheme to earn money from business owners in his district, Burke encouraged those business owners seeking permits from the city of Chicago — and from his alderman's office, specifically — to donate to Preckwinkle's fledgling campaign for mayor.
Foxx counts Preckwinkle as an ally, giving her access to the same political machine.
3. She's taken a lot of money from progressive organizations — and George Soros.
Foxx's campaign for State's Attorney fell under scrutiny, even from left-leaning publications within the city, while it was in progress. In addition to the typical Chicago political donors, many of whom are local and regularly contribute to Democratic campaigns, Foxx took cash from two "dark money" super PACs, one of which has ties to leftist mega-donor George Soros.
Illinois Sunshine, which watches political donations to key races, shows more than $300,000 donations from Soros to Kim Foxx's "Illinois Safety & Justice PAC" which Foxx used to finance her defeat of Alvarez in 2016. Soros also contributed $75,000 to Foxx's PAC after the campaign had concluded, seeding her with money for her re-election.
The only other donor to her super PAC was the Civic Participation Action Fund, a local criminal justice reform organization.
Soros' donations to Foxx came at a time when the global billionaire was focusing on "low-level" races, like district attorney races, in the hopes of getting more progressive candidates elected to influential positions where they could enact progressive criminal justice reform.
4. Her office has had recent issues with handling violent offenders.
Foxx is now notorious for lax prosecution and for a "reformed" approach to both non-violent and violent offenders, but a recent prosecutorial decision to show leniency to a probation violator had dire consequences.
Last weekend, one off-duty Chicago police officer was killed and another was wounded when they were shot while sitting in a car in the city's tony River North neighborhood, just north of downtown.
The alleged shooter, Menelik Jackson, was supposed to be on probation for a domestic violence incident, according to CWB Chicago, but two weeks ago, he was released from supervision after he violated the terms of his probation, allowing his home ankle monitor to run low on battery. The details are complicated, but thanks to the Cook County State's Attorney's office policy of cutting deals with offenders, Jackson was given the green light to exit the criminal justice system.
Days later, Jackson and a companion got into an altercation at a McDonalds, and, seeking retribution for a perceived personal slight leveled during the fight, opened fire on the first people they came across who resembled the group of partiers who they'd just tangled with. Those people turned out to be two off-duty Chicago cops and their female companions. The officer who died in the attack was using his body to shield his girlfriend from gunfire.
Foxx's office was sharply criticized over the weekend for essentially allowing Jackson go free on his probation charge. Tuesday morning, the same office made the decision to drop charges against Smollett, citing their commitment to seeking out only "violent" offenders — a goal that they claim prosecuting Smollett took time away from.
5. There's a pending complaint against her from the Chicago Police Department for trying to interfere in their investigation into the alleged hate crime committed against Jussie Smollett.
Kim Foxx might also be in trouble for her handling of the Smollett case specifically. Last week, Chicago's primary police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, delivered a letter to the United States Attorney's office in Chicago, alleging that Foxx had tried to compromise their investigation of Jussie Smollett at the behest of a Smollett relative and a woman by the name of Tina Tchen who once served as the Chief of Staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama.
In a series of text messages and emails, Tchen contacted Foxx on behalf of Smollett's family, whom she said had "concerns" about the police investigation. Foxx appears to have told Tchen and subsequently the Smollett relative that she would speak to Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and convince him to turn over investigation of the alleged "hate crime" to the FBI.
Those texts and emails became public last week, thanks to a FOIA request from Chicago's local NBC affiliate.
The email sent by Michelle Obama’s former Chief of Staff Tina Tchen which was the precursor to text and phone call exchanges between SA Kim Foxx and an unknown #JussieSmolett family member. pic.twitter.com/aRUiK3XYWQ— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) March 26, 2019
They clearly show that Foxx was communicating with Johnson, and that she believed she was, in fact, convincing him to turn over the Smollett case to the FBI. The FOP believes that these communications demonstrate that Foxx was trying to — unethically and, potentially, illegally — exert her influence over the CPD, and they immediately requested an investigation.
There are signs that Tuesday's decision to drop charges may have come as a result of the FOP's complaint. Smollett was due back in court on April 14, and could have been informed of a deal then, but Foxx's office called an "emergency hearing" Tuesday morning — just as CPD's top brass were going into a CPD graduation ceremony (where they would be out of pocket for at least two hours). Foxx's office did not inform either CPD or the mayor's office ahead of time of their decision to come to a deal with Smollett's attorneys.
The deal seems to demonstrate a desire for open war between Foxx's office and CPD.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office insists that Foxx was not involved in the decision not to go forward with prosecution against Smollett and reiterated Tuesday that Foxx had recused herself from the case before her own office made a decision to charge Smollett because of her communication with Smollett's relatives.