Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx released thousands of pages of documents late Friday from the case of Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor who was charged with faking a hate crime against himself for publicity. In March, Foxx’s office suddenly dropped all the charges. That decision has led to criticism of Foxx, protests against her, counter protests and an investigation into how her office handled the case. Here are the highlights and lowlights from the document dump.
1. Feds saw case as “a giant pile of poop”?
Within three days of Smollett’s report that he had been attacked, Foxx and one of her top aides pushed for the investigation to be moved to the FBI from the Chicago Police Department.
On Feb. 1, Foxx sent a text message to April Perry, her chief ethics officer: “How likely do you think FBI would be willing to take Smollett investigating?”
Perry responded that “the only trick would be massaging CPD’s ego a little, unless CPD wants to get rid of it?”
Later that morning, Foxx texted Perry that she had quickly convinced CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson to cede the probe to the FBI. “He was worried that they wouldn’t take it,” Foxx wrote, directing Perry to let the feds know. “Impress on them that this is good.”
That afternoon, Perry texted back to Foxx: “I just spent 45 minutes in person” with U.S. attorney John R. Lausch Jr.’s top assistant, “doing my best sales pitch.”
Perry added that Jeffrey S. Sallet, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, “will likely call Eddie [Johnson] to get assurances they aren’t being referred a giant pile of poop.”
“I’m not sure what else we can do to persuade them, unless you want to lobby Lausch directly,” Perry wrote to Foxx.
2. Foxx thought statement about her own recusal was “bull****”
A Feb. 20 written statement from Foxx’s office said she had removed herself from the case because she had “facilitated a connection” between a Smollett relative and CPD about the investigation. The statement said the state’s attorney recused herself “based on those prior conversations.”
But in a Feb. 19 text message released with Friday’s document dump, Foxx told an aide that her recusal stemmed from something more than her conversations with the Smollett relative.
“April [Perry] told me I had to do it. There were rumors, she claims, that I was related to or closely connected to the Smolletts. I told her that wasn’t true. She said it was pervasive among CPD and that I should recuse. I thought it was dumb but acquiesced. It’s actually just racist.”
In another text, Foxx complained that a press aide had approved the “bull**** statement” about her decision to recuse herself.
3. Smollett “volunteer work” was in exchange for having case dropped
After Smollett’s case was suddenly dropped in March, his attorneys and prosecutors went back-and-forth over whether he had been forced to perform community service as part of an agreement or if he was just a “dedicated citizen.”
The weekend before the charges were dropped, Smollett worked at Jesse Jackson’s organization Rainbow PUSH. Prosecutors said he did so as community service, but Smollett’s attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said he was simply volunteering.
Texts, emails and prosecutor notes make it clear the work Smollett did at Rainbow PUSH was community service as part of a deal to make his case go away. What’s more, they show that Holmes and Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier debated how much of the arrangement should be revealed in open court.
Initially, Lanier planned to tell the judge the state had “confirmed” Smollett’s work at Rainbow PUSH, but Holmes said that could sound “like he did it in exchange for the dismissal.”
“I thought we were not going on that direction,” Holmes wrote.
Holmes was concerned Lanier would give an accurate representation of the agreement in court, and Lanier agreed to change her wording.
4. Police search warrants sought tons from social media companies
Hundreds of the pages released Friday consist of applications for search warrants. Many are attempts to get information from social media companies, and the information being sought is exhaustive.
One search warrant sought deleted Snapchat messages.
Another aimed for Instagram information starting from the date an account was created (the account’s owner was redacted) to the present. Here’s one of about a dozen information requests included in that single search warrant:
“Any transcripts of chats or messages sent from and received by the account including all wall posts, wall comments, wall likes, interests, pictures, videos, comments related to attached pictures and videos, profile pictures that are present on page (what his page looked like during the period) or deleted from page.”
5. Prosecutors planned to drop the case very, very early
Text messages between Perry, the chief ethics officer, and First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats show they were discussing “diversion” that could have allowed Smollett to avoid being indicted in the first place.
“We can offer the diversion program and restitution which generally is before ... indicting him,” Magats texted to Perry on Feb. 20. “If we can’t work something out then we can indict him and go from there.”
Magats sent that text on the day Smollett was charged, but before he was formally indicted.
Once Smollett was indicted, prosecutors worked quickly to dispose of the case. At a hearing on March 14, the judge issued a case management order setting Sept. 26 as the target date for resolving Smollett’s case.
At that same hearing, prosecutor notes show an “offer” for 15 hours of community service and $10,000 restitution in exchange for having the case dropped and immediately expunged from Smollett’s record.
Less than two weeks later, that’s almost exactly what happened, wrapping up the case six months earlier than expected.
6. Court hearing dropping charges was carefully scripted
A team in the state’s attorney’s office crafted the language that prosecutors would use in court to describe why they were dropping the case. And that team consulted with Smollett’s attorneys on the messaging.
Holmes, one of his attorneys, appears to have written the first draft, which includes language that would allow Smollett to maintain his innocence. Holmes suggests that the prosecutor say, “Given the publicity surrounding this case, the public is also reminded that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.”
Prosecutors rejected that suggestion but Lanier, one of Foxx’s top prosecutors, was open to framing on how Smollett’s volunteer work would be characterized in court. Lanier proposed language that she thought would not indicate “that his volunteer work was the result of any deal between the attorneys which would indicate guilt.”
Responding to one proposed statement, Magats expressed concern that it “could be construed as the defendant being able to buy his way out of the case because he is a good guy.”
The team eventually settled on a statement. Lanier texted Holmes to confirm what they planned to say in court:
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
When Smollett went before cameras and said he was innocent, the carefully crafted language was thrown out and prosecutors told reporters that the volunteer service was part of a deal to dispose of the case. They made clear they did not believe Smollett was innocent of the charges.
Chip Mitchell, Patrick Smith, Shannon Heffernan and Robert Wildeboer contributed.