Tina Tchen, who was former First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, has been in the news quite a bit lately, mostly for her role in getting charges dropped against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
While Chicago police were still investigating an alleged hate crime against Smollett and considering him a victim, Tchen reached out to the Cook County State Attorney’s Office asking for the investigation to be handed over to the FBI.
“I wanted to give you a call on behalf of Jussie Smollett and family who I know. They have concerns about the investigation,” Tchen sent in a text message to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on February 1.
Foxx emailed Tchen that same day to say, “Spoke to the Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson” and that she had “convinced him to Reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation.”
Foxx also texted a relative of Smollett to say the same.
“Spoke to the superintendent earlier, he made the ask,” Foxx texted. “Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted.”
Smollett’s relative responded by saying: “Omg this would be a huge victory.”
Foxx replied that she could “make no guarantees, but I’m trying.”
Foxx recused herself from the case before Smollett was charged for allegedly concocting the hate crime against himself. He had claimed two white men wearing Make America Great Again hats physically assaulted him at 2 a.m. in Chicago during a polar vortex while yelling “This is MAGA country.” It turns out the two men were of Nigerian dissent, wore plain red hats, and had been paid by Smollett for a “5 week Nutrition/Workout program” just before the alleged attack. The two men were seen buying supplies on surveillance video.
Last week, Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police requested a federal investigation into Foxx’s interference in the case.
Tchen’s name is not only appearing in reports about helping steer the Smollett investigation. She is also getting news coverage as the person hired to investigate alleged racism and sexism within the Southern Poverty Law Center. Earlier this month, the center’s co-founder, Morris Dees, was fired. The president of the organization also recently resigned amid complaints from employees that women staffers were sexually harassed by Dees and that the organization’s white leadership did not adequately advance minority staffers.
In a statement announcing Dees’ firing, then-president Richard Cohen said the center had hired “an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve – one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected.”
The person hired to lead this investigation was Tchen. The Chicago-based attorney and co-founder of the Times Up Legal Defense Fund (part of the MeToo movement), will be assessing the SPLC’s workplace culture.
In a statement to The New York Times, the SPLC’s board chairman, Bryan Fair, said the allegations and departures were “an eye-opening reminder that the walk toward justice must sometimes start at your own front door, and force you to look at your past so you can improve your future.”