David Axelrod Unloads on Decision to Free Jussie Smollett After ‘Insidious’ Hoax

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: David Axelrod, Director, Institute of Politics, The University of Chicago, speaks at The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit, Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty
JOSHUA CAPLAN

David Axelrod, who served as senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, lamented the decision of Illinois prosecutors to drop all charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett, stating the ordeal shows a well-connected celebrity could fake a hate crime against oneself without facing repercussions.

Prosecutors on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett, abandoning the case barely five weeks after the “Empire” actor was accused of lying to police about being the target of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago. Smollett’s attorneys said his record had “been wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was assaulted by two men.

“You can contrive a hate crime, make it a national news [sic], get caught and-if you are a well-connected celebrity-get off for $10K and have your record expunged and files sealed,” Axelrod said in the first of three tweets on the subject.

Axelrod noted that prosecutors had not exonerated Smollett of any wrongdoing, but rather dismissed his case due to previous community service done by the actor in an unrelated case. Thus, the reason the Empire actor sacrificed his bond, the Democrat operative turned podcaster explained to his more than one million Twitter followers.

Axelrod then called the staging of hate crimes “insidious” and something perpetrators should be held accountable for, and called on prosecutors to release evidence justifying the reversal of their decision to charge Smollett.

“Hate crimes are loathsome. Faking them is insidious and shouldn’t be excused. Despite Smollett’s denials, nothing the prosecutor said in dismissing the case supports that. If prosecutors have evidence that contradicts the indictment THEY brought, they should share it today,” he said.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the decision to dismiss the case. In a statement, the Cook County prosecutors’ office offered no detailed explanation. The city will keep the $10,000 in bail money that Smollett paid to get out of jail after his arrest.

“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,” the statement from spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said.

Outside court, neither Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report.

“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” Smollett told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”

Defense attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”

Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is in his final weeks in office after two terms, said the city saw its reputation “dragged through the mud” by Smollett’s plan to promote his career. The hoax, the mayor said, could endanger other gay people who report hate crimes.

“Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago police department. How dare him? How dare him? After everybody saw––and I want to remind you, this is not the superintendent’s word against his. The grand jury, a sliver of the evidence, and they came to a conclusion as did the state attorney’s office,” an emotional Emanuel said. “This is not the superintendent and the detectives’ department word against his. And even after this whitewash, there is still no sense of ownership of what he’s done. He says that, in fact, he is the wronged in this case. This is an unbelievable not just whitewash of justice.”
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stood by the department’s investigation and said Chicago is “is still owed an apology.”

“I’ve heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so that America could know the truth. They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” Johnson said at a graduation ceremony for new police cadets.

Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation, citing conversations she had with a Smollett family member.

Smollett was accused of falsely reporting to authorities that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on January 29 in downtown Chicago. The actor claimed two men hurled racist and homophobic insults at him and doused him with an unknown chemical substance. He also told officers his assailants place a thin noose around his neck and shouted “This is MAGA country!” before fleeing. Investigators said he made the report because he was unhappy with his pay on Empire and believed it would promote his career.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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