U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the Department of Justice will “review” the case of actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged with staging a fake hate crime in Chicago before prosecutors abruptly dropped the case this week.
In an early morning tweet announcing the review, Trump said the case had embarrassed the nation.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said two men attacked him at night in January, making homophobic and racist remarks and putting a noose around his neck while shouting support for Trump.
Investigators later charged Smollett with paying the two men to pretend to attack him in order to garner public sympathy for himself. Prosecutors dropped the charges on Tuesday, saying they stood by the accusation but that an agreement by Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond was a just outcome.
The county prosecutors’ decision stunned the city’s police chief, prompted the police union to demand a federal investigation and enraged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, who called it a “whitewash” that made a fool of the city.
Trump, a Republican, echoed those remarks early on Thursday.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”
Smollett, 36, says he is innocent and did not stage the attack. His spokeswoman and his lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. The Department of Justice declined to comment.
The FBI has already had some involvement in the case, with agents investigating a threatening letter Smollett said he received prior to the attack, according to the Chicago Police Department.
The initial reports of two Trump supporters attacking a gay, black celebrity drew widespread sympathy for Smollett, particularly from Democrats. That faded quickly after the actor’s arrest, and the case was seized on by some as an example of what Trump likes to deride as “fake news.”
Smollett is best known for playing a gay musician on the Fox drama “Empire.” His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his acting career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to “Empire” after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.
Chicago’s chief prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, has defended her office’s decision as proportionate to what she described as relatively minor charges, saying that even if Smollett had been convicted he would likely not have faced prison time.
Foxx recused herself from the case after acknowledging she had discussed it with a relative of Smollett.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)