Are we finally coming to the end of the Jussie Smollett “hate crime” story? I’ve mostly steered clear of this confusing tale except for some of the usual banter on Twitter, but the most recent developments seem to be sending the actor toward a very dark place. To be clear, we’re not at the point where anything is 100% confirmed, and if Smollett actually was attacked I want his assailants found and prosecuted. But according to the Chicago police, the investigation into his alleged assault has “shifted.” They’re still not being terribly specific, but there are plenty of hints to be found as to what they’re talking about. (Associated Press)

Chicago police said Saturday the investigation into the attack reported by Jussie Smollett has “shifted” due to information received from two brothers arrested in the case then released, and police want to interview the “Empire” actor again.

Chicago police had released the two Nigerian brothers without charges late Friday and said they were no longer suspects in the reported attack.

“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an emailed statement Saturday. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”

The cops sounded pretty confident that they had identified the two men seen in various bits of video footage from the time of the supposed assault. The two Nigerians were later identified as being associates of Smollett, with one of them being a personal trainer he’d previously hired to help get him in shape for an acting role. They also don’t seem to fit the profile one might expect of typical “rednecks” in MAGA hats, to put it mildly.

For his part, the actor is still saying there’s “no truth” to the idea he might have played role in the attack, and he finds the suggestion offensive. And of course, he’s blaming Trump, as Karen pointed out yesterday. But details are leaking out and it’s now being alleged that not only did he put his buddies up to participating in a hoax hate crime, but he paid them thousands of dollars to do it. (NY Post)

Chicago police now believe “Empire” TV actor Jussie Smollett paid two pals to fake the attack that he has insisted was carried out by a pair of homophobic and racist strangers, according to a stunning new report.

The buddies — body-builder brothers from Nigeria — told cops they purchased the rope for the noose recovered from Smollett’s neck ­after the attack, Fox’s Chicago affiliate reported Saturday night, citing multiple Chicago law-enforcement sources. The two are cooperating with the probe, and have turned over to cops the Ace Hardware receipt for their purchase of the rope, Fox 32 reported.

Coming up with a receipt for the rope used to make the noose sounds like a pretty specific piece of information. Unless some new, startling evidence to the contrary turns up, it’s really looking as if Smollett faked the attack for reasons we don’t yet know.

So let’s say that’s what actually happened. If so, what becomes of this entire debacle? Smollett’s supporters in both Hollywood and the political circus should walk back all the accusations they hurled and their indignant statements of support for him, though most will likely go into radio silence mode on the subject.

But there’s more damage to clean up than the usual Twitter wars. The police invested resources into a lengthy investigation. And the actor has cast a shadow over not only his own career but the future success of the show he’s on. Who pays for all of that? Under Illinois law, filing a false police report in this fashion is just a Class A misdemeanor under the state’s disorderly conduct statutes. For a first offense, it brings a maximum fine of $10,000 and some community service, but jail time is unusual. Does that seem like sufficient justice for setting off a national media firestorm in this fashion?

I’m seeing some people suggest that the supposed death threat letter he received could be treated as a federal crime with more serious penalties. Sending death threats through the U.S. mail system is definitely a crime, but if he either sent it himself or had his friends do it, and all parties knew that it was a hoax, was there really a death threat sent? Seems to me that a competent attorney could get that charged kicked fairly easily.

He didn’t really defame anyone if the two alleged participants not only went along with it but were paid for their services. Making a generic accusation against “Trump-supporting rednecks” may be proven to be a total fabrication, but no specific person would be able to show damages. So is that it? He writes a check to the courts, maybe spends a couple of weekends picking up trash in a public park and everyone just gets on with their lives? That’s what it looks like to me, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion.