What's come out about Jussie Smollett's attack

Empire star Jussie Smollett reportedly claimed he was brutally attacked by two white men wearing ski masks in Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019. According to TMZ, one of the men shouted racist and homophobic slurs before the two assailants fractured Smollett's rib, tied a rope around his neck, and poured a liquid (possibly bleach) on him. In an interview with Chicago police, Smollett claimed the attackers yelled, "This is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again." The Chicago Police Department said it was investigating the assault as a possible hate crime.

As the news broke, politicians and celebrities alike publicly condemned the alleged attack and voiced their support for Smollett. However, chatter soon began to emerge that Smollett's version of events might not be entirely truthful when he reportedly refused to hand over his phone to authorities. Less than a month later, on Feb. 21, 2019, Jussie Smollett was arrested, and the following month, the charges against him were dropped. Let's take a look at what's come out about Jussie Smollett's alleged attack.

His tearful Good Morning America interview

On Feb. 14, 2019, Good Morning America aired an exclusive interview between Jussie Smollett and host Robin Roberts. The actor tearfully defended his version of events and questioned skeptics. "It's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth," he said, suggesting race played a role in the way his story was received. He'd said the attackers were white. "It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me … that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now."

Smollett denied reports that he'd said his attackers were wearing President Donald Trump's signature MAGA hats. "I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae," he said. However, Smollett did say he believed he was targeted because he's been critical of Trump: "I come really, really hard against 45." 

According to The Blast, some GMA staffers had their doubts about the actor, noting that Smollett reportedly initiated contact with the morning show and "specifically requested" Roberts, who appeared on an episode of Empire in 2018. Roberts has since addressed that interview, reminding audiences that when she sat down with Smollett, "police officers were saying that his account was consistent, it was credible, and that he was being cooperative." 

And then the story took a turn… 

Tracking down 'people of interest'

A day after the reported attack, Chicago police released a blurry surveillance photo of two men labeled as "people of interest," and shortly after the Good Morning America interview aired, the cops announced that they had identified the people in that footage and were questioning them. According to ABC News, the two men are "U.S. citizens of Nigerian descent" and were detained at O'Hare Airport. CBS Chicago reported that the men had been identified by their attorney as brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo. Police reportedly raided the brothers' home on the north side of Chicago and found a "black face mask hat, an Empire script, phone, receipts, a red hat and bleach."

The brothers' attorney, Gloria Schmidt, spoke on their behalf. "When they first learned what happened to [Jussie Smollett], they were horrified," she said. "This is someone that they know, this is someone that they work with, so they don't want to see somebody go through that." Schmidt added, "They're really baffled why they're people of interest. They really don't understand how [police] even got information that linked them to this horrific crime, but they're not guilty of it."

The investigation shifts gears

"Standby for a MAJOR development in the Jussie Smollett case," ABC 7 Chicago reporter Rob Eglas tweeted on Feb. 14, 2019. And major it was. In a subsequent post, Eglas claimed multiple sources were saying that Smollett "staged the attack – allegedly because his character was being written out of the show Empire." More reports pointing a finger at Smollett soon emerged, but Chicago Police initially pushed back, tweeting that the reports of a hoax were "unconfirmed by case detectives" and insisting that ABC 7 Chicago's "supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate."

The conversations brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo had with police reportedly sent Jussie Smollett's curious case in an entirely new direction. "Case Update: Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete," Chicago PD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted on Feb. 15, 2019. In a follow-up statement (per The New York Times), Guglielmi confirmed that the results of the questioning had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation."

According to TMZ, law enforcement sources claimed Smollett agreed to "sign complaints against the 2 men who attacked him," but when he found out the Osundairo brothers "were the ones in custody," the actor allegedly declined. 

Smollett is accused of orchestrating the attack

On Feb. 18, 2019, Chicago's CBS 2 reported that brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo allegedly told the Chicago police department that they were paid by Jussie Smollett to stage the assault. The two men were supposedly paid $3,500 and were "promised an additional $500 upon their return" from a trip to Nigeria. CBS 2 reported that "all three men rehearsed their plan just days before" the incident took place on Jan. 29, 2019.

Jussie Smollett's lawyers, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, released a statement to CNN denying that the TV star had any role in the alleged attack. "As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," the statement said. "He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

The statement also explained the relationship between Smollett and one of the brothers (per NBC News): "One of these purported suspects was Jussie's personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie's complicity."

He read for a play with a similar plot

When Jussie Smollett landed in Chicago shortly after midnight on the night of the alleged attack, the Daily Mail reported that the actor was returning from New York City, where he'd auditioned for a possible revival production of Take Me Out. In the Tony award-winning play "about a biracial baseball star who comes out as gay," there's reportedly a scene where the lead character suffers an attack that's eerily familiar to the one Smollett described to police — the antagonist in the play also screams "'f****t' and 'n****r” to the baseball player.

Smollett's return flight to Chicago was reportedly delayed. During his wait, the Empire star began posting Instagram stories. An insider told the Daily Mail that investigators allegedly believe the social media posts were shared to "alert" brother Ola and Abel Osundairo.

A possible motive?

As this case continues to unfold, it's creating more questions than answers. If Jussie Smollett did stage the attack against him, why would he do such a thing? Ola and Abel Osundairo, the brothers who were questioned in the attack and who claimed Smollett paid them to carry it out, have reportedly suggested a possible motive to investigators. According to ABC News, the brothers claim the actor "was upset that the threatening letter" sent to him at the Fox studio "didn't receive enough attention," so he "staged the attack a week later." 

During his aforementioned Good Morning America interview, Smollett said the letter "had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it with the words that said 'Smollett, Jussie you will die.'" He said the letter's return address section featured the acronym "MAGA." According to ABC News, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are analyzing the letter, which was sent Jan. 22, 2019, in a crime lab to determine if "Smollett played a role" in its creation.

His arrest and revelations about his criminal past

On Feb. 20, 2019, Jussie Smollett was charged in connection with alleged attack against him. "Felony criminal charges have been approved by @CookCountySAO against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report. Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest," Chicago PD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.

On Feb. 21, 2019, Jussie Smollett turned himself in and was placed under arrest. Unfortunately, this incident wasn't the first time Smollett allegedly provided false information to police. According to the New York Post, Smollett once "pleaded no contest in 2007 to providing false information to police during a DUI stop" in Los Angeles. In the misdemeanor complaint, authorities say the Empire actor "gave the name of his brother, Jake, when he was asked by an officer." Smollett eventually accepted a plea deal and was "sentenced to two years' probation" and "completed an alcohol education and treatment program."

The Chicago Police Department's fiery press conference

On Feb. 21, 2019, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson delivered a blistering press conference where he claimed Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." 

"Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?" Johnson said. "How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? How can an individual who's been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?"

Johnson confirmed much of the speculation surrounding Smollett's alleged orchestration of the attack, including details about the relationship between Smollett and the Osundairo brothers and communication among them before and after the attack. Johnson also suggested that Smollett was behind the racist, threatening letter sent to Fox studio, but federal law enforcement officials reportedly told TMZ they "have drawn no conclusions" about the letter to date. 

As far as why he would do this, Johnson said Smollett orchestrated the attack because "he was dissatisfied with his salary" (sources told Vulture that Smollett makes "around $125,000 per episode.") "When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly it pissed everybody off," Johnson told reporters.

All the drama behind the scenes of 'Empire'

After being released on $100,000 bail, Jussie Smollett "went directly" to the Empire set. Once there, per CNN, the actor reportedly apologized to the cast and crew of the hit drama "for any embarrassment the recent allegations may have caused." However, according to sources inside the meeting, Smollett maintained his innocence and blamed the "legal system and the media" for his predicament, leaving everyone in attendance "shocked and dismayed." 

However, according to TMZ, Smollett's apology didn't work. Some of his fellow castmates were reportedly "f**king furious" that he "damaged the show's image" and demanded he be "written off immediately." Apparently, the producers agreed. In a statement, (via CNBC), they said they'd opted to "remove the role of 'Jamal' from the final two episodes of the season" in order to avoid further disruption on set."

As of this writing, time is running out for Smollett to reclaim his role, because on May 13, 2019, Variety reported that the sixth season of the music industry drama would be it's last. During conference call with reporters after the news broke, Fox Entertainment C.E.O. Charlie Collier dodged questions about Smollett's return. "Oh gosh," Collier said (via Vanity Fair). "You know, really, the [writers'] room hasn't even gathered yet. So we have the option to [bring Smollett back], but there are no plans at this point." At the time of this writing, over 14,000 fans have signed a petition to urge producers to allow Smollett to return.

Prosecutors dropped all charges

On March 26, 2019, Cook County prosecutors delivered a stunning plot twist fit for Empire — they dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett. According to the Chicago Tribune, this decision raises more questions than answers surrounding the case. In the deal, Smollett forfeited his $10,000 bond and was ordered to perform community service. However, the deal "did not require Smollett to admit he did anything wrong" and "the entire court file has been sealed at the defense's request."

This abrupt turn of events apparently caught law enforcement off guard and left Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel fuming. "I've heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so America could know the truth," Johnson said during a press conference. "And now they chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system." Emanuel called it a "whitewash of justice" and suggested Smollett received special treatment: "You cannot have, because of a person's position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else."

Adding to the confusion, First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats cast a long shadow over Smollett's future. "The bottom line is we stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him," he told the Chicago Tribune. "The fact that (Smollett) feels that we have exonerated him we have not. I can't make it any clearer than that."

The charges were dropped, but this thing ain't over

Outside the courthouse, Jussie Smollett touted his innocence. "Not for a moment was it in vain," Smollett said (via ABC7 Chicago). "I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of." However, First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats made it clear that he feels very differently. "We believe he did what he was charged with doing," Magats told ABC7 Chicago

If trying to figure out what's happened has caused your brain to melt, don't worry, you're not alone. Gil Soffer, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for ABC7, feels your pain. "It's the very same authority that decided to bring charges in the first place that has now decided to drop those charges," he said, adding that it "doesn't make sense." Even 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former prosecutor Kamala Harris has no idea what's going on here. "To be perfectly honest … I'm completely confused…" she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I'm at a loss."

President Donald Trump even tweeted his two cents: "FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!" ABC7 Chicago reported that the "FBI is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of criminal charges." According to TMZ, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.

His lawyer hints he might sue

Tina Glandian, a lawyer for Jussie Smollett, appeared on Good Morning America and hinted that a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department may be imminent. "We're weighing our options now," she said, claiming Smollett "was a victim of a crime" and the situation "has completely spiraled out of control and become a political event at this point." She blasted Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for "doubling down" after the charges were dropped. 

Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Alaleh Kamran told People that no prosecution "doesn't mean there can't be civil lawsuits going both ways." According to Kamran, "Jussie can sue the complaining witnesses, the complaining witnesses can sue him. I'm sure there will be lawsuits because there's damages. Jussie's career has been destroyed, his name and reputation has been dragged through the mud, I would be surprised if he does not pull some kind of civil action to, at the minimum, clear his name."

Chicago is charging Smollett for the cost of the investigation

Chicago city officials are demanding Jussie Smollett pay back the cost of the investigation. "The City of Chicago will be sending Mr. Smollett a bill," Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said (via Page Six). "It was an extensive investigation that required a lot of review of cameras. There was technical assistance provided by external agencies, but it'll likely only include Chicago expenses and not expenses incurred by the FBI and other technical experts we brought in for analysis." Per the Associated Press, the $130,000 bill "covers overtime worked by more than two dozen detectives and officers who spent weeks looking into Smollett's claim, including reviewing video and physical evidence and conducting interviews."

USA Today reports that Chicago's Department of Law sent a letter to Smollett threatening to file a lawsuit to collect even more if the full $130,000 "is not timely paid." Mayor Rahm Emanuel added, "When (Smollett) does pay the city back on just what the taxpayers have fronted, in that memo section (of the check), he can write, 'I'm sorry, and I'm accountable for what I've done.'"

In a statement (via USA Today), Smollett's legal team immediately pushed back on the city's claim that Smollett should be on the hook for the investigation's cost. "It is the Mayor and the Police Chief who owe Jussie — owe him an apology — for dragging an innocent man's character through the mud. Jussie has paid enough."

Kim Foxx called him 'washed up' & other legal news

On April 16, 2019, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office released "released thousands of emails and text messages relating to the Smollett case" (per CNN). The communications revealed that Foxx was adamant that Smollett was overcharged and her office was unprepared for the media onslaught that awaited them. 

"Sooo……I'm recused, but when people accuse us of overcharging cases …16 counts on a class 4 (felony) becomes exhibit A," Foxx wrote. In a text exchange between herself and other prosecutors, Foxx reiterated her belief that the amount of Smollett's charges were unnecessary. "Pedophile with 4 victims 10 counts. Washed up celeb who lied to cops, 16," she wrote. "On a case eligible for deferred prosecution I think it's indicative of something we should be looking at generally. Just because we can charge something doesn't mean we should. It's not who we want to be." Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Risa Lanier texted her thoughts on the news coverage. "Just wish I could have anticipated the magnitude of this response and planned a bit better," she wrote.

The public might also get the full scoop on Smollett's curiously opaque legal proceedings, because in another development, CBS Chicago reported that Cook County judge Steven Watkins "has scheduled a … hearing for arguments on the motions to unseal court records." 

A judge ordered a special prosecutor to investigate

According to the Chicago TribuneCook County Judge Michael Toomin decided that when Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the Jussie Smollett case, she had no legal authority hand it over to another prosecutor in her office. Toomin concluded that the case was mishandled and ordered an investigation into "the sudden dismissal" of the 16 felony counts against Smollett.

"Here, the ship of the State ventured from its protected harbor without the guiding hand of the captain," Toomin wrote in his decision. "There was no master on the bridge to guide the ship as it foundered through unchartered waters. And it ultimately lost its bearings." The decision is a win for former state appellate judge Sheila O'Brien, who called for a special prosecutor when the charges were dropped. "We'll get the truth, the whole truth, under oath, and that's what this is about," she told reporters.

Foxx claimed her office remained on the case because didn't recuse herself "in a legal sense," but Toomin shot that reasoning down. "What was intended by Ms. Foxx, and what indeed occurred, was an unconditional legal recusal," he wrote. "Essentially, she announced that she was giving up all of the authority or power she possessed as the duly elected chief prosecutor; she was no longer involved." In simple terms, when Foxx stepped away from the case, her entire office was obligated to step away as well.

Jussie Smollett wants Chicago's lawsuit moved to federal court

In Apr. 2019, the City of Chicago followed through with their threat to sue Smollett for the cost of the investigation. Although the charges against Smollett were dropped, the Chicago Police Department maintains Smollett orchestrated the alleged attack and are looking to recoup the amount they spent on overtime. 

Per Fox News, the city's law department filed a civil complaint seeking "the full measure of damages allowed under the false statements ordinance." The statement continues, "This follows his refusal to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019." 

In response, Smollett's representatives filed a motion in July 2019 (via Fox News) to have the city's lawsuit "moved from state court to federal court." The actor's attorneys argue that "federal court is the proper venue for the case," since Smollett is a California resident who only lived in Chicago while filming Empire.

The Chicago PD released all the video

According to ABC7, the Chicago Police Department released "nearly 70 hours of video" connected to the Smollett case, including bodycam footage of officers arriving at the actor's apartment. Footage of the Osundairo brothers arriving at the scene of the alleged attack, and "being detained by police at O'Hare International Airport" was also included. 

However, the critical piece of footage shows the officers arriving at Smollett's apartment with his manager, where they found the Empire star still wearing the noose around his neck. Smollett then removes it and asks the officers to stop filming once he realizes they are recording. "He doesn't want this to be a big deal, you understand what I'm saying," Smollett's manager says in the video. "The thing that makes me emotional is they put this makeshift loop, what do you call that thing, a noose around his (expletive) neck. I'm sorry, you know. And that is what bothers me, the cut thing doesn't bother me at all. If that makes any sense."

Per TMZ, another video "shows the Osundairo brothers in a taxi" less than an hour before the alleged attack took place, with one of the brothers "wearing a ski mask." Once they step out of the vehicle, the brothers "don't appear to be holding anything — no noose, no bags — that might be used for the alleged attack on Jussie."

Donald Trump weighed in repeatedly

If "MAGA" is mentioned in a news story, you can be sure Donald Trump will have something to say on the matter. On the day Smollett was arrested, Trump hopped on his favorite social media platform to write a few words. Tagging Smollett, he tweeted, "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?" 

After Cook County prosecutors dropped the charges against the embattled actor, the 45th president revealed that higher law enforcement was now involved. "FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!" he tweetedNBC News confirmed that federal officials were indeed reviewing the case.

Trump once again invoked the Smollett case in May 2019 during the 38th annual memorial service on Capitol Hill for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. According to The New York Times, Trump "singled out prosecutors in Philadelphia and Chicago as being part of a 'dangerous trend' by deciding not to prosecute 'many criminals who pose a severe threat to public safety and community well-being.'" He then made an obvious reference to Smollett, adding that "those who file false police reports should face full legal consequences."