And now we know the motive. Earlier today, a visibly angry Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson blasted Jussie Smollett for taking advantage of racism in order to raise his profile. He also rebuked “celebrities and presidential candidates” for buying into Smollett’s false narrative for their own purposes. “Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said, which leaves him “offended and angry.”
The motive behind Smollett’s hoax? He was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire.
JUST IN: "'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson says. https://t.co/5AiMcfe6iH pic.twitter.com/nOOhk0e8YD
— ABC News (@ABC) February 21, 2019
In an important development, Johnson declared that Smollett was also behind the threatening letter that was earlier sent to the production offices of Empire. That is the first on-the-record statement that indicates Smollett may face federal charges. Johnson accused Smollett of dragging “Chicago’s name through the mud” when the letter didn’t get the response Smollett desired:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 21, 2019
Johnson also lamented the amount of coverage this case has received, in large part because of Smollett’s own promotion of it, in comparison to the attention victims of gun violence receive. However, the police are clearly mindful of the scrutiny they are receiving over the investigation. They had a detective carefully outline the timeline of events in order to emphasize how long they assumed Smollett was a hate-crime victim. Only after finding the two men in the video and talking with them did the direction of the investigation change toward a hoax.
He’s still slated to work later today on the set of Empire, Variety reported this morning, and the latest shooting schedule shows no changes. However, Hollywood’s biggest media outlet says its sources say Fox producers have changed their minds about supporting Jussie Smollett. They may suspend him after his arraignment today in court over charges of filing a false police report:
Fox is considering removing Jussie Smollett from production on “Empire.” Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report.
A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment. Smollett’s status on the show may change amid a fluid legal situation.
However, the same report from Daniel Holloway concludes with this:
A knowledgable source close to the situation said Smollett is expected by Fox to finish his work on the series despite the controversy that erupted around Smollett after he reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of a vicious hate crime.
After this press conference, though, one has to assume that Empire’s producers will rethink the shooting schedule, as well as Smollett’s continued employment.
So what’s next for Smollett? A panel on ABC’s Good Morning America discussed his options, which don’t look too good at the moment. Dan Abrams points out that the tone from Smollett’s team has changed significantly over the last couple of days, and he thinks they’re aiming for a deal. Former prosecutor Sunny Hostin doesn’t think prosecutors will be inclined to cut any deals. It’s an honest and wide-ranging discussion, but no one mentions the possibility that federal prosecutors could very well charge Smollett over the alleged letter threat, too. A panel on the local ABC affiliate prior to the police department presser discussed it at some length and said it might very well be much worse than the charges announced yesterday.
To be fair, though, no one once brought up pouncing conservatives as the real problem, which means they managed to clear the Don Lemon Bar.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 21, 2019
Update: Changed the headline a bit at 11:22 ET to get Johnson’s direct quote on motive in it.
Update: Give Trump credit for holding off this long on the Smollett hoax. His patience ended not long after the presser concluded:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
I’d bet Johnson won’t be happy about the attention going up all the way to the Oval Office, but Trump has a point.