If Jussie Smollett wants to rescue his claim with the Chicago PD, the window may be closing — quickly. According to TMZ, Chicago prosecutors plan to bring the case to the grand jury as soon as next week. If police have flipped the two Nigerian brothers who participated in a hoax, that might be a bit more than the usual “ham sandwich” case, too:
A grand jury will hear the Jussie Smollett case early next week … law enforcement sources tell TMZ.
Law enforcement sources connected to the investigation tell TMZ, the 2 brothers who were arrested and then released are staying somewhere around the Loop in downtown Chicago under the watchful eye of police so no one gets to them. We’re told cops especially want to make sure Jussie does not contact the brothers.
Yes, it’s TMZ, which isn’t exactly known for its cautious approach to reporting. However, the question of a grand jury proceeding has come up in Chicago’s local media as well. The police aren’t denying it, although they’re not confirming it either:
The trajectory of the investigation “shifted” after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them late Friday without charges, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday. He said police also reached out to Smollett’s attorney to request another interview with him.
Guglielmi said Sunday the interview had not yet been conducted. He declined to comment on published reports that police believe Smollett staged the assault or that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case. The reports cited unnamed police sources.
“We’re not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we’ve gotten,” he said.
But what about the earlier threat on Smollett — the one in the crude letter the actor claims to have received before the attack? TMZ has some news on that as well:
We’re told when police raided the home of the 2 brothers they found magazines with pages torn out, and authorities are now trying to determine if the missing pages are connected to the threatening letter that was sent to Jussie 8 days before the alleged attack. …
The sources say there were red flags from the get-go. Cops were extremely suspicious when Jussie took them out to the area where he said he was attacked and pointed to an obscure camera saying how happy he was that the attack was on video. Turns out the camera was pointing in the wrong direction. Cops thought it was weird he knew the location of that camera.
And, there’s this. We’re told investigators didn’t believe the 2 alleged attackers screamed, “This is MAGA country,” because, “Not a single Trump supporter watches ‘Empire.'”
Or because it’s Chicago. How many votes did Trump get there? Five, maybe? It would have made it pretty easy for police to track down any “MAGA country” claims.
“There were always questions,” Alisyn Camerota commented this morning, “about some of the more strange elements of this story.” If so, CNN and other media outlets certainly didn’t let those questions get in the way of their reporting it as an example of racism and homophobia in the Age of Trump. CNN’s Ryan Young agreed with Camerota and also reported that their sources say the police now believe Smollett “orchestrated the attack.” Young positioned himself in the neighborhood itself and noted how it doesn’t fit with Smollett’s narrative:
Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN that Chicago Police believe actor Jussie Smollett paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him that he reported late last month.@RyanYoungNews reports: https://t.co/6CaJhCLUOm pic.twitter.com/EqZP0rR6it
— CNN (@CNN) February 18, 2019
Maybe news agencies can stop playing so much of Smollett’s interviews. We’ve heard his side of things ad infinitum. We could use more footage of Democratic presidential candidates pouncing on the Smollett story, however, and especially of their backpedaling now.
Back to the grand jury move, which is a smart choice by law enforcement in a high-profile case. That lets them off the hook for directly filing a criminal charge against Smollett and protects them from accusations of bias and bigotry. If a grand jury returns an indictment, it immediately gains significant credibility.
It may have had its desired immediate effect, too. Smollett’s attorneys have agreed to make him available to detectives as soon as later today after several days of vacillating:
As the Chicago police investigation into the reported attack on Jussie Smollett enters new territory, the “Empire” actor’s attorney says Smollett plans to speak with detectives as soon as Monday.
One of Smollett’s newly retained attorneys, Todd Pugh, told the Sun-Times on Sunday that the actor and his legal team “expect to [be] back online tomorrow with the investigators.”
Pugh said a possible sit-down would depend on “scheduling availability.”
Police and prosecutors have ways to incentivize “scheduling availability.” Alerting a grand jury certainly qualifies as such. Smollett may yet be proven accurate, but that’s not the way things look at the moment.