Text Messages Show State's Attorney Closely Followed Smollett Case

22 hours ago
Originally published on April 17, 2019 8:13 am
Copyright 2019 WBEZ Chicago. To see more, visit WBEZ Chicago.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A washed-up celeb who lied to cops. Those are the words of Kim Foxx, the state's attorney in Cook County, Ill. She wrote them in a text message to her top deputy. And she was talking about the actor Jussie Smollett. Smollett, of course, pleaded not guilty to 16 felony accounts after police say he paid two brothers to stage an attack to raise his profile on TV salary. Foxx, who recused herself from this case, criticized Smollett but also complained that the charges against him were excessive. Hundreds of texts and emails related to this case were released by Foxx's office late yesterday. And let's talk them through with Robert Wildeboer. He's on the line. He's the senior editor at the criminal justice desk at our member station WBEZ in Chicago. Robert, welcome.

ROBERT WILDEBOER, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what is all this revealing about the Smollett case? Anything new?

WILDEBOER: Well, I think the biggest thing it shows is that Kim Foxx remained involved in the case even though she had publicly said that she was recusing herself. She said her first assistant was handling the case. But then when the office brought 16 felony counts against Smollett, she texted her top assistant and wrote, quote, "So I am recused, but when people accuse us of overcharging cases, 16 counts on a Class 4 felony becomes exhibit A."

GREENE: So you say she may have been involved even though she recused herself? Do we know if she was meddling here - influencing the outcome?

WILDEBOER: I think it's hard to argue otherwise. And I think it raises questions about her recusal. And there have been some evolving kind of answers around this. She recused herself because she tried to help Smollett's family when she still thought Smollett was a victim of a hate crime. And then when suspicion turned on Smollett himself as kind of perpetrating this attack on himself, she said she would recuse herself. But later, she said that wasn't like a legal recusal, which would have required the appointment of special prosecutor, it was more of a colloquial accusal (ph), more of a withdrawing from the case.

But then these texts show she was still watching it. And it becomes hard to argue that she wasn't exercising some influence there with, in particular, the text I just referred to. But one thing - another thing the texts do show is that, you know, there've been a lot of allegations that Smollett got special treatment. And that's why the office dropped the charges against him. These texts also would seem to show that, in fact, Foxx's concern was one she came into office with, which was one for criminal justice reform. And she seems to be, you know, comparing Smollett's case to other cases - not giving him special treatment because he's a star, which has been, you know, much of the criticism.

GREENE: Why did her office release these? I mean, were they forced to?

WILDEBOER: Her office has been facing allegations that they handled the case improperly. She has been on a - you know, kind of in a defensive position for the last several weeks.

GREENE: Yeah. The inspector general for the county is investigating how she handled the case. I mean, what could be the implications of these text messages we're seeing?

WILDEBOER: Well, I think it's all a big political problem for Foxx, who is, you know, trying to - you know, again, came to office as a criminal justice reformer. And it remains a big political distraction for Foxx at a time when the city is facing arguably much, much bigger questions and issues.

GREENE: Robert Wildeboer with member station WBEZ in Chicago, thanks a lot.

WILDEBOER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.