A criminal investigation isn’t over until it’s over, especially when there’s a do-over.
In a decision that had a lot more to do with politics than effective prosecution, Cook County Democratic slate-makers recently announced their backing of Kim Foxx for re-nomination and re-election in 2020.
No surprise there. Foxx is not only politically connected to Cook County Democratic Chairwoman Toni Preckwinkle, she checks the race and sex identity politics categories that dominate their party coalition.
But all is not well with the Foxx re-election effort, as demonstrated by a Cook County judge’s decision last week to appoint a special prosecutor to re-examine a prominent case that Foxx, for still un-determined reasons, thoroughly botched.
Circuit Judge Michael Toomin announced the appointment of former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, a prominent Chicago lawyer, to take a hard look at Foxx’s decision in March to dismiss all charges in the hate-crime hoax involving actor Jussie Smollett.
The Smollett controversy has raged in Cook County since January, when the former “Empire” actor reported that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by President Trump-supporting thugs because he is both black and gay.
Smollett, presenting himself to police with a noose still wrapped around his neck, said he escaped serious injury by fighting off his attackers. Among the improbable details in his account of the fight was that he managed to dispatch the assailants while holding a cell phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other.
While the national news media swooned over the story — more outrageous hatred in the age of Trump — it was clear to investigators and local reporters that Smollett’s story didn’t add up.
Further investigation indicated that Smollett hired two black friends for $3,500 to stage the assault and that he did so to generate publicity to boost his acting career. Included in the evidence investigators found was store video of Smollett’s associates buying the supplies, including the rope, they used in the phony assault.
Chicagoaons, for a variety of reasons, were outraged by Smollett’s fraud. He subsequently was charged in February with felony offenses for staging the attack and lying to police.
There the case stood for several weeks until Foxx’s office suddenly, without explanation, dropped the case. Smollett agreed to do some public service work and forfeit a bond he posted, but continued to insist that the attack really happened.
Should Smollett have received that kind of kid-gloves treatment without having to acknowledge his guilt? Why did Foxx permit it to happen?
Those are the two lines of inquiry Webb will pursue.
Smollett may be — and should be — recharged in the case. He’s done nothing to deserve the break he got, unless being the friend of the right people in Chicago counts.
More important, why did Foxx oversee an oversight charade in which she first asserted that she was recusing herself from the case for unexplained reasons and then acknowledging that she didn’t really recuse herself.
Everything that Foxx’s office did in the case was intentional. But was it illegal or improper? Webb said he’ll try to find out, and “the facts will take me where they take me.”
At a minimum, it appears that Foxx’s office was somehow compromised during the aborted prosecution process. So Smollett needs to be held accountable in a meaningful way.
So does prosecutor Foxx — her handling of the Smollett case was an abomination that reminded everyone in Cook County and the state that special treatment is available to those with connections.
Webb’s finding, undoubtedly, will have an effect on Foxx’s re-election campaign. She’s already drawn primary opposition. Maybe Democratic voters, having seen Foxx in action, will want to go in a different direction.
There’s no guarantee on that. Cook County voters are remarkably tolerant of corrupt and incompetent public officials as long as they are Democrats. But even their patience, as former notorious county assessor Joe Berrios learned in 2018, has its limits.
– The (Champaign) News-Gazette