The case against Jussie Smollett — which now, thanks to a special prosecutor, is actually a case again — fits nicely into this moment in our history.
We’re living in a Golden Age of trans-parent malfeasance, with things happening locally and nationally that appear so obviously dishonest that they force us to stop and ask: “Am I missing something? This seems almost too clearly wrong.”
What a time to be alive. Unless you’re Mr. Smollett, who now faces what seems like a well-deserved six counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly making four separate false reports about what he told police last year was a racist and homophobic attack on himself.
Smollett’s claim of an attack — which he alleged was at the hands of supporters of President Donald Trump — twisted Chicago in knots. A high-profile, black and openly gay actor detailing a hate crime on our city’s streets. It was jarring.
But something about it seemed off from the jump. The crime happening in the diverse and upscale Streeterville neighborhood didn’t make sense. The details of the alleged attack — a noose around Smollett’s neck, a chemical splashed on him, attackers shouting Trump slogans — almost seemed scripted. The “Empire” actor didn’t want to turn over his cellphone data to help with the investigation. There were cameras everywhere, but none picked up the crime.
Doubt about the validity of Smollett’s claims sunk in, but they were countered by the incredulous question: “Why would a famous person concoct such an obviously dodgy story?”
The Chicago Police Department thoroughly investigated the case, eventually concluding it was a hoax. Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct, and it seemed we could put the whole weird mess behind us.
But then the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, with Kim Foxx at the helm, swooped in.
The charges against Smollett were dropped. Just like that. There was no satisfactory explanation. No new evidence was presented. Nothing.
One day Smollett was charged with fabricating an outlandish tale of a hate crime committed by Trump supporters, the next day he was free to go. So was there actually a crime? If so, was that being investigated? Or did he just make it up? Did the state’s attorney’s office still believe the Police Department’s investigative work?
And what about Foxx’s revelation that Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff asked her to contact a member of Smollett’s family early in the investigation?
It looked like such obvious case of a famous person getting preferential treatment that it made me think, “Can this really be as dodgy as it seems? Why would a person trying to do something dodgy make the dodgy thing she’s doing look so obviously dodgy?”
Which brings us to the key part of the statement special prosecutor Dan Webb released Tuesday announcing the new charges against Smollett.
It’s this sentence: In the state’s attorney’s office, “decision-makers overseeing the Smollett resolution decision have not identified any new evidence they learned of between the time of indictment and dismissal of the indictment that changed their view that the evidence against Mr. Smollett was strong.”
That has been one of the primary questions throughout this farcical case: What changed and led prosecutors to drop the charges?
The answer, according to Webb’s inves-tigation thus far, is that nothing changed.
So he believes the alleged attack — the one that sounded exactly like what you’d expect a fake attack to sound like — was, indeed, a fake attack.
And thus it would appear that the state’s attorney’s office’s decision to drop the charges in a way that seemed utterly dodgy was, in fact, pretty darn dodgy.
Sound stupid? That’s because it is. But what makes me the most angry about this case and other recent high-profile examples of thinly disguised wrongdoing (looking at you, current occupant of the White House) is they presuppose that we’re stupid.
Foxx responded to the new charges against Smollett, and to Webb’s claim that he has “obtained sufficient factual evidence to determine” that he disagrees with how Foxx’s office resolved the case, by saying: “What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision, just 35 days before an election, which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system.”
Oh, c’mon! A baseless accusation that a special prosecutor is politicizing the justice system is — in and of itself — politicizing the justice system.
We must now hope the justice system functions properly, determines, at long last, Smollett’s guilt or innocence and explains what really happened that night in Streeterville.
And, with an election coming up, we must hope voters determine whether Foxx’s handling of this ridiculous case should get her voted out.
I think it should. But I have this crazy belief that if the people we’re supposed to trust are going to lie to us, they should, at the very least, be smart enough to make us think they’re honest.
Is that really too much to ask?
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.