It’s often said that the U.S. has two criminal justice systems, one for the well-to-do and one for ordinary folks. This may be true. It certainly seems to be the case if we’re talking about well-to-do celebrities who are black and gay and hate President Trump — especially if they fall out with the law in Chicago.
I’m referring, of course, to Jussie Smollett. Today, we learned that the actor who claimed, almost certainly falsely, to be the victim of a hate crime by Trump supporters will not be prosecuted for any of the 16 counts on which he was indicted. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office declared:
After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community [note: it reportedly consisted of a few hours on two days] 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.
Smollett wasn’t even required to admit wrongdoing. Instead, he was able to claim, reading from notes that “I have been truthful and consistent from day one.” His lawyers were even more emphatic. They pronounced Smollett a victim, the precise status he apparently hoped to attain through his report to the police of being assaulted by MAGA hat wearers.
This may be the biggest fold since Alex Acosta offered Jeffrey Epstein his sweetheart deal. It’s a wonder that Cook County didn’t return Smollett’s bail bond and apologize to the guy.
Chicago officials were not amused. No less of an authority on political fixes and Chicago shenanigans than Rahm Emanuel stated: “From top to bottom, this is not on the level.”
Emanuel suggested that Smollett was given special treatment because of his celebrity. He also scoffed at the $10,000 — Smollett’s bond money — given to the city as part of the deal, noting it wouldn’t come close to the city’s expenditures for investigating the alleged attack.
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, an African-American, was even more upset. He said:
Do I think justice was served? No. I’ve heard that [Smollett and his team] wanted their day in court with TV cameras so America could know the truth. And now they chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system.
Area Central Detective Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki, whose detectives led the investigation, said prosecutors gave no heads up to police that the charges would be dropped. He also expressed concern that the prosecutor’s decision left it looking like the police mishandled the investigation.
Wodnicki said that his detectives uncovered “overwhelming” evidence against Smollett. He described the prosecution’s decision as “absolutely a punch in the gut.”
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats was the lead prosecutor in the case. He took charge of it after State’s Attorney Kim Foxx stepped aside because of a conflict of interest. Foxx had lobbied Superintendent Johnson to drop the Smollett case and hand it over to the FBI. She did so after being contacted by Tina Tchen, a leftist operative and former chief of staff for Michelle Obama. Foxx also communicated with a member of Smollett’s family about her efforts on his behalf.
George Soros reportedly donated $408,000 to Foxx’s 2016 campaign for State’s Attorney.
Magats insisted that he did not drop the charges against Smollett due to lack of evidence. “It’s a mistake and it’s wrong to read into the decision that there was something wrong or that we learned something about the case that we didn’t already know,” he insisted. Magats added, “the bottom line is we stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him.”
But the abrupt and secretive decision to drop the Smollett prosecution in exchange for virtually nothing invites one of two conclusions. Either (1) there was indeed something wrong with the evidence and/or new information came to light that undercut the case against Smollett or (2) the decision wasn’t on the level, to use Rahm Emanuel’s words.
At this point, we can’t say for sure which of these conclusions is accurate, or whether the explanation lies elsewhere. However, I’m betting on “not on the level.”
UPDATE: David Axelrod, well-schooled in “the Chicago way” agrees with Rahm Emanuel. He tweeted:
Unless some better explanation surfaces, here’s the lesson of this weird turn in the Smollett case:
You can contrive a hate crime, make it a national news, get caught and-if you are a well-connected celebrity-get off for $10K and have your record expunged and files sealed.
However, I think Axelrod overlooks the fact that, in addition to being a well-connected celebrity, Smollett is a minority group member (actually a two-fer) who was peddling an anti-Trump narrative.