Talk about making a federal case out of something. A Chicago judge on Friday appointed a former U.S. attorney—a fed, y’all—as special prosecutor to investigate what one guesses should be referred to as “Jussie Smollett-gate.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, on Friday, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed Dan Webb, a former federal prosecutor, to reinvestigate the case of Smollett, the actor best known for the role he once had on the Fox TV hit Empire.
Yes, that case is back in the news. Or, more to the point, it’s never gone away. “It” being the saga of how it came to be that Smollett, accused of lying to police about getting a racist and homophobic beatdown one cold Chicago night, came to have all charges dropped with only the loss of a $10,000 bond and doing some community service.
(Like that kind of prosecutorial deal, often involving allegations far more serious, isn’t made every day in these United States.)
But in any case, Webb’s appointment comes after a two-month search for someone to take on this project, and Webb is it.
Per the Tribune:
“Obviously, this is something we take very seriously,” Webb told reporters after he was sworn in during a brief hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. “We are honored to play a role in helping, as Judge Toomin said in a recent order, to restore the public’s confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
Webb declined to give a time frame for his investigation, but said he has a few immediate priorities. He plans to request a special grand jury, whose members could hear sworn testimony from witnesses and deliver criminal indictments. And he said he will reach out to Smollett’s attorneys and key witnesses.
In case anyone has forgotten, said questions of “integrity” are landing squarely at the feet of Cook County’s chief prosecutor, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose office signed off on the deal with Smollett.
Foxx has defended her office’s handling of the case, saying that Smollett was treated no differently from other defendants in “low-level” cases. She opposed the appointment of a special prosecutor, saying the work would mimic that of the county’s inspector general office, but the judge ruled against her.
On Friday, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Foxx’s office in a statement said it would cooperate with the special prosecutor:
Foxx’s office Friday issued a statement that drew attention to Toomin’s finding that her office did not have a conflict of interest, pledging to cooperate with Webb’s investigation.
Webb, whose career, the Sun-Times notes, includes probing the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, will now figure out what all happened after Smollett reported he’d been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack earlier this year, and police charged it had all been a hoax.
Ultimately, Webb’s probe could lead to new charges against Smollett and may also negatively impact Foxx’s hopes to win a second term in office.