Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx penned an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune Saturday in an attempt to defend her office’s decision to strike a deal with “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, allowing him to escape trial on 17 criminal charges in return for forfeiting his $10,000 bond and performing just 16 hours of community service.
In the article, Foxx claims that her office believed it would be difficult to obtain a conviction against Smollett, and that, because Smollett was not alleged to have committed a violent crime, her office did not want to waste resources pursuing his case.
“In determining whether or not to pursue charges, prosecutors are required to balance the severity of the crime against the likelihood of securing a conviction,” Foxx said in her op-ed. “For a variety of reasons … my office believed the likelihood of securing a conviction was not certain.”
She added that she “welcomes” an outside investigation into her office’s actions if that will help restore public faith in her department.
“I am not perfect, nor is any other prosecutor out there, but ensuring that I and my office have our community’s trust is paramount,” Foxx said, adding that she was prepared to become the subject of an “outside, nonpolitical review of how we handled this matter.”
She may get her wish: both the primary Chicago police union and President Donald Trump have asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to step in and review the case. Friday, the FBI noted that it had begun an “inquiry” in the matter, but declined to call their actions a full investigation.
Foxx could be in trouble. According to FOIA documents released several weeks ago, she communicated with both a former aide to President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, and a member of the Smollett family, believed to be Smollett’s sister. Because of those communications, Foxx supposedly “recused” herself from the Smollett case, but last week her office revealed that Foxx had used the term only “colloquially” and had never officially stepped away from the case.
Both the Illinois prosecutors’ bar and the National District Attorneys Association sharply criticized Foxx for failing to put professional distance between her office and the Smollett case, as would have been appropriate.
Smollett is accused of concocting and directing his own “hate crime,” paying a pair of friends to attack him outside of his downtown Chicago apartment in the early hours of January 29. Smollett later told police that he was accosted and beaten by two white men who threw a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and shouted, “this is MAGA country,” before taking off. Last month, Smollett was charged with 17 criminal counts stemming from what police claim was a series of false reports.
Foxx’s office dropped the case against Smollett abruptly last week without informing either the Chicago Mayor’s office or the Chicago Police Superintendent.
Her defense of the matter appears to have fallen on deaf ears. In another article, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who can hardly be considered right-of-center, ripped into Foxx’s office, contending that her colleagues’ actions and her handling of the case should get her booted from office next year, if not sooner.
“Foxx could have distanced herself from this blunder given that her own blunder — emailing and texting with people close to Smollett early in the investigation — had prompted her to step away from the case and leave it to underlings,” Zorn wrote. “But she grabbed ownership of it Wednesday, giving interviews in which she expressed pride and confidence in the way her office had handled the case.”
In closing, Foxx tried to convince readers that Smollett had suffered enough, even without a criminal conviction, making her actions immaterial to the situation.
“Smollett’s alleged unstable actions have probably caused him more harm than any court-ordered penance could,” she wrote. “Falsely reporting a hate crime is a dangerous and unlawful act, and Smollett was not exonerated of that in this case.”
The Chicago Law Department has since taken over the case, issuing Smollett a bill for a little over $130,000 Friday for police overtime hours expended on his case. If Smollett does not pay within the week, the Law Department says it may pursue a civil action to recover the funds.