In January and February of 2019, the American news cycle was taken by storm when in a matter of days an alleged hate crime against actor Jussie Smollett, by masked, noose-wielding “Trump supporters”, was revealed to be an elaborately bungled hoax organized by none other than the victim himself. In the days and weeks that followed, the public found themselves both stunned and amused when Smollett was first charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Then, in a shocking emergency hearing (denounced by both Chicago PD and Mayor Rahm Emanuel), cleared of all charges and records sealed by the office of Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx. Foxx had ostensibly recused herself based on “a familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” but many decried her recusal as insufficient at the time. Rather than turn the case over to a special prosecutor, her office instead retained control over the matter in the person of Assistant State Attorney Joseph Magats, Foxx’s top staffer. Foxx’s recusal was further questioned after an open records request revealed several text messages between Foxx and Magats, in which the pair made references to Smollett’s 16 felony counts as “overcharging”, “excessive” and as Foxx stated in one text “Just because we can charge something, doesn’t mean we should.”
The case took several interesting turns as a few eye-brow raising connections were revealed throughout these proceedings. One such connection was Senator and Democratic candidate for president Kamala Harris, who was a personal mentor to Kim Foxx during her first run for political office, as well as a friend of the Smollett family, particularly Jussie Smollett’s younger sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Senator Harris and both Smollett siblings were photographed together at political events. For her part, Smollett-Bell appears to have been involved in Harris’ 2016 Senatorial campaign, filming a “#TeamKamala” endorsement that was retweeted by Harris.
Even more fascinating was the public revelation of an Obama connection as it was discovered that Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, began texting and communicating by email with Foxx just days after victim-turned-hoax orchestrator Smollett filed his false police report following the incident. Tchen also put Smollett’s family in contact with Foxx during this time period, a fact later prompting Foxx’s quasi-recusal.
Ultimately, the case records were unsealed by Cook County judge Steven Watkins, determining that Smollett did not behave in a manner of a “person seeking to maintain his privacy.” By August, another Cook County judge Michael Toomin appointed a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, to investigate Foxx’s handling of Smollett’s case.
On Monday, a curious development was revealed by Chicago reporter Rafer Weigel when he shared on Twitter that Webb had made a $1,000 political contribution to Foxx’s campaign in 2016. The contribution, while on its face seeming to indicate a conflict of interest in Webb’s ability to impartially investigate Foxx, is brought into question by Webb (a Republican), who maintains he has no memory of ever donating to Democrat Foxx’s campaign. He also doesn't have any recollection of attending the fundraiser where the donation was allegedly made. In a sworn affidavit uploaded by Weigel, Webb states that during an interview preceding his appointment by Judge Toomin, he informed the judge he had never met Kim Foxx nor had he had any communications with her. Notably, he went on to state that he was made aware of his own supposed contribution on September 24 by none other than Michael Bromwich, the attorney representing Foxx. His prior career highlights included working for President Obama, as well as representing Christine Blasey Ford. Webb goes on to state that he learned from his colleague at Winston & Strawn LLP, Kimball Anderson, (a political supporter of Foxx) that his firm did indeed host a fundraiser in 2016 at Foxx’s request (which was poorly attended) and that Anderson likely requested Webb make the contribution, even in absence. This is common practice for the partners at Winston & Strawn. Webb continued to maintain he has no recollection of either the contribution or the fundraiser.
Legal experts speaking to Weigel believe Foxx’s attorney brought the matter to his attention in an effort to spur his recusal, and on Friday a status hearing was held on the matter. Judge Toomin ultimately deced to retain Webb as special prosecutor, finding “no indication he harbors any bias.”
Anna Timmer is a Michigan-based writer, business owner, political activist and host of the Called to Liberty podcast.