“Empire” actor and R&B singer Jussie Smollett told Chicago police last month that two men physically attacked him and yelled racial and homophobic slurs. The AP details some key moments in the story. (Feb. 20)
Fox says it’s still standing by “Empire” star Jussie Smollett even after Chicago police indicated they are now investigating the possibility that the actor, who is black and gay, orchestrated last month’s assault, which was originally characterized as a possible hate crime.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” Fox said in a new statement on Wednesday, issued a day after the network refused to comment on a Deadline report that his role was being scaled back while the investigation plays out.
Meanwhile, it was reported Tuesday that the FBI is investigating whether Smollett had any role in a threatening letter addressed to him and containing a white powder later revealed to be pain medication. The envelope was received at the Fox studio in Chicago which serves as the show’s production base exactly one week before Smollett reported being assaulted on Jan. 29 in the Streeterville neighborhood.
Although the FBI wouldn’t confirm the news, a federal government official who has been briefed but not authorized to comment on the investigation told USA TODAY that the agency’s new inquiry is still in the preliminary stages.
In a lengthy interview with “Good Morning America” last week, Smollett told Robin Roberts that he believed the letter was linked to the alleged attack.
He said the letter “had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it with the words that said ‘Smollett, Jussie you will die,’ ” he said, adding that in the return address area was simply listed as said “MAGA.”
The actor has maintained that he was attacked in Chicago in the early hours of Jan. 29 by two masked men who shouted “racial and homophobic slurs.” Police said Smollett described the assailants punching him in the face, pouring a chemical on him and wrapping a rope around his neck.
Last week, a pair of Nigerian siblings in their late 20s who reside in Chicago told detectives that they were paid to stage the attack, a person familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY.
Police also found records in the Chicago home of one of the men that showed they purchased rope from a hardware store that was used in the alleged attack, the source said.
The brothers were released Friday with police citing new evidence in the case. They were not charged. Police spokesman Tom Ahern said the brothers met with police and prosecutors Tuesday. They did not testify before a grand jury.
In a statement issued late Saturday, the actor’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, confirmed to USA TODAY that the star knew the brothers and employed one as his personal trainer.
Smollett was “angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” his attorneys said in a statement.
Pugh and Henderson added, “He has been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Contributing: Aamer Madhani and Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
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