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Prosecutors Drop All Charges Against Actor Jussie Smollett. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired March 26, 2019 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Shan, everyone was struck by the police superintendent there. I guess maybe nothing should shock you as a former prosecutor. But does it surprise you now that that was -- that was not long ago and now what it appears to be happening now with all charges dropped?
SHANLON WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's very shocking, Kate. Really, at the time, I was struck as a prosecutor by how far out on a limb the police were going with that kind of statement. They were really laying out their case in public as though he had already been convicted. You have to be careful of that. If you have a very strong case and overwhelming evidence of the defendant's guilt, no need to talk about it. It will take care of itself. A lot of times police, in particular, interview a lot of witnesses, they may have a very strong gut instinct is someone telling the truth or not. You have to wait for that corroboration. Sometimes it comes slowly. Small details fit or don't fit. It turns out this is based on some kind of major question about their credibility, that's because there was a hasty decision made about who to believe. You have to wait for those things to play out.
BOLDUAN: We have much more to come on this. Shan, stick around.
Word coming in from Chicago that all charges have been dropped. We have a statement from Jussie Smollett's attorneys saying just that. We have much more to come on this breaking news out of Chicago.
We'll be right back.
[11:35:55] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BOLDUAN: We are continuing to follow this wild breaking news out of Chicago. Thank you for joining us back.
Jussie Smollett -- we are learning the "Empire" actor had been facing indictment on 16 charges, all charges now dropped. This first, we heard from his attorneys. And now a statement from the Cook County state -- the Cook County attorney's office. I want to read this to you. "After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community, an agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case."
Ryan, has been following this case from the beginning. He's in the Cook County courthouse.
Where Ryan, correct me if I'm wrong, but Jussie Smollett is in the courthouse for an emergency hearing. We could be hearing from his attorneys and maybe Jussie in a short time. When did they learn about this?
RYAN YOUNG, CNNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we got some information about this. We totally found out about this last night. Of course, they reviewed the information, according to the state's attorneys' office, and decided to move forward on this. When we got the all call this morning, we rushed down here. Jussie Smollett just walked down this hallway. We are told he has to file paperwork. His attorney and spokesperson said they plan to walk to these mics and have a conversation with us. Maybe they'll answer some questions.
Another twist and turn in this case, Kate, because as we were talking in the last 10 minutes or, so something stuck out. Just last week, the two Osundario brothers, the two brothers who were involved in this, one of them competed in the Golden Gloves Boxing event here in Chicago. Watching this guy move around and throw power punches, if this guy was throwing punches of Jussie Smollett it would have done some devastation to him. I know that's sort of the side here, but you've got to think what did they learn about the evidence in the last 48 hours that they didn't know before? What came through here? All the cameras are pointing this direction because we are expecting Jussie Smollett to walk this way.
That is the spokesperson for his attorney.
OK, so they're coming out. We're going to switch our camera this way.
BOLDUAN: Hang on. What's she saying?
YOUNG: She is saying they will talk in a minute or two. That Jussie's believed to give a statement.
One thing she wanted to stress is that all charges have been dropped. This is not a plea deal. That's something they wanted everyone understood.
So she came and gave -- came out to give some information. We're told Jussie is going to walk this way. He's just around this corner here. So, again, as this
YOUNG: continues to unfold --
BOLDUAN: And, Ryan, we went over this this morning. Everyone is surprised. This started as Jussie Smollett, "Empire" actor, as a victim of a hate crime and was attacked. He said that they were wearing red Make America Great Again hats at one point. To the superintendent of the police department coming out and saying this was staged by Smollett, this was planned by Smollett, this was a hoax, and the motivation is that he was unhappy about his salary on the "Empire" show. Now we are where, is a huge question? We don't know other than we are about to hear --
BOLDUAN: -- from Jussie and charges are dropped.
YOUNG: We do know, about an hour from now, that the mayor and the superintendent will have a press conference, as well. They will be talking about this.
But you have to ask, how did we get here? And what happens to the Osundario brothers? Will they be charged or not charged? What happened that night? Was a noose used or was it not? These are all the questions that we have. So many twists and turns. You are saying he will walk away with no charges, all that man hours were used. Did the police department not tell the complete story here? What did they find out? Those are the questions we'll have to find out here. Whether it comes from the state's attorneys' office, or whether it comes from the police department, whether it comes from Jussie's team, it seems we will never have a complete picture about what happened on that very cold night when Jussie Smollett said he went to get a sandwich at Subway. He walked back home, was attacked by two men who he says he didn't recognize. He also described one of the people who had a mask on as having white skin. Not only did they apparently punch him, he fought back, they put a noose around his neck and then poured bleach on him. And he went to the hospital after that. When you think about the twists and turns, people at the hospital have been fired over this case because, apparently, people were looking into his medical records.
[11:40:36] BOLDUAN: Oh, right.
YOUNG: When you think about the explosion that has happened from this case, there's so much here, so many twists and turns. Everything this touched has been sort of corroded. You have to wonder, what is the outcome of all this because someone has to answer for it, right? But at this point, it doesn't seem like anybody is.
BOLDUAN: We will find out Jussie Smollett's position, it sounds like, in just a few seconds.
Just to put a point on it, Jussie Smollett, remind us, Ryan, has maintained all along that he is not guilty.
YOUNG: Yes. That is another big conversation here because, at the end of this, you had an "Empire" show and cast mates who were upset. You had people supporting him. You also had people who were upset about this. Remember, that first time he got a bond, he walked out of here, hundreds of cameras followed him. He went right back to work. We know he was suspended from the job. You have the idea that he always maintained his innocence. He said he was going to continue to fight this.
Then you have the other two brothers who told the story. Here's the thing. Did they tell the truth or did they tell a lie? Do they face charges now for twisting this at all? They never talked. Their attorney has talked. We have never heard from them.
You have to wonder how 12 detectives or the police department started believing what they said over the actor. How did this all work out? What evidence did they get recently to make them come to the conclusion that 16 counts were all going to be dropped? No community service, nothing. We are at the point where we are waiting to hear what happens next.
BOLDUAN: We're going to wait. The next thing we hear from is Jussie Smollett and his attorneys, according to what you're hearing right there.
We have a camera on Ryan Young. We're going to stick there. We will come as soon as Jussie walks around the corner.
Brian Stelter, Joey Jackson are here with me for a little more on this.
Brian, you have been in touch with someone close to Smollett's team. What are they saying?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": They are saying the police and prosecutors mishandled this and there was a rush of judgment in this case. That's notable because this started about a conversation about a rush to judgment, that Smollett --
STELTER: -- was accused of a hate crime. There was an argument that the media rushed to judgment and everyone rush to judgment instead of assuming he was telling the truth. Now it is flipped around again. Now the charge from Smollett's camp is there was a rush to judgment to accuse our client of being guilty. He has lawyers and P.R. people around him. One saying to me, "From the start, the case against Jussie Smollett didn't make sense. He has always been an upstanding member of the community. That's why those closest to him continue to support him through this ordeal."
That's the view from Smollett's camp, is that prosecutors and police mishandled this. Quote here, "Their case is falling apart because the evidence was not there."
BOLDUAN: Joey, we were sitting there together when all of this happened.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, we were.
BOLDUAN: I am baffled by this.
JACKSON: Flabbergasted, right? Amazing. I'm parsing the statement of the Cook County attorney's office. And here's what --
BOLDUAN: Can you help me with that?
JACKSON: "After viewing all the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution."
I know Ryan Young spoke to the issue of a plea deal and said there was none. But in the event there was no evidence, no issue, this was all a misstep, you would not be forfeiting your bond at all. You would be getting the bond back. We wouldn't be evaluating your prior service --
BOLDUAN: OK, wait. So are you saying --
BOLDUAN: Yikes. So a possibility you are saying here is not that -- so the possibilities would be Jussie made this up and staged this and that's what he was charged with, right?
BOLDUAN: The other possibility is that Jussie is a victim of a hate crime and was attacked. And you think there's something in between those things?
JACKSON: The other possibility is that there was a complete overstep by the police. You had the superintendent going on "Good Morning, America." Not only you had them speaking about the evidence that they had on him but also saying you can't believe what we have out there. Not quoting him directly but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
BOLDUAN: You were pissed off when you heard the motive.
JACKSON: You can -- it baffles the mind that you have 12 detectives on a case, you have 1000 man-hours on a case, and then, all of a sudden, you flip the script and add 16 counts, where it is very specific if you look at the indictment.
JACKSON: Initial line as it related to the officers about the hate crime, about what was said to him, about where it occurred, about how it occurred. Then those were eight counts. And then another eight counts as it related to lying to the detective. Very specific, very detailed. Now you say, you know what -- BOLDUAN: OK.
JACKSON: -- it is all dropped.
BOLDUAN: So you're telling me that --
[11:45:01] JACKSON: Yes.
BOLDUAN: -- we will hear a little bit more. I find this fascinating what you are telling me. I think this is important. That the superintendent could have been -- the police chief --
JACKSON: Poisoned the entirety of --
BOLDUAN: -- could have been accurate in that he was not a victim of a hate crime but just that this is the better way of handling the false police report.
JACKSON: Just to resolve this. This was made the case of the century. I think Chicago, there's a long history perhaps of the community there and them not treating people of color appropriately. I think this was a horrific -- they went after him with all their might. I think this would --
BOLDUAN: They were trying to make an example of him, right?
BOLDUAN: You can't lie to the police and you can't waste their time.
STELTER: It was political. It was political and the authorities were acting for political reasons. In some ways, it increased distrust in the community.
JACKSON: This would sort of strike a balance. In going after him like they did and poisoning the jury pool, how do you get a fair trial after you have the superintendent coming out with such strong statements, after you everybody weighing in that community, talking about diversion of resources, other things the resources could have been applied to. Jussie Smollett, he made up this thing about the noose. It's outrageous. Now you have here again -- I'm just parsing the statement --
JACKSON: -- they are considering his service to the community and he is forfeiting his bond. We believe that is appropriate. That's not saying we don't have the evidence, we don't have -- (CROSSTALK)
JACKSON: That's saying we believe it's a just resolution as opposed to all of this overkill. That's what this says.
STELTER: What I'm really hearing is what the major or the superintendent are going to say.
STELTER: The view from Smollett's camp, according to a person close to Jussie, "This case underscores the need for people in power to not rush to judgment."
Smollett's camp in the coming hours is going to be very critical of the Chicago P.D. and of the authorities. I'm fascinated to hear, what is the defense going to be from the authorities in this situation?
BOLDUAN: Shan? I think Shan Wu is still with us.
Shan, this concept of rush to judgment is, I think, an important one here. It sounds -- Joey seems to think it's a rush to judgment. Brian talking about rush to judgement. How could that play into all this?
WU: They were way out on a limb with those kinds of overstatements. I agree with Brian and Joey. The forfeiting of the bond, I just saw that in the news. That's very, very peculiar. He made a mistake and he is innocent, you dismiss the charges. What's this forfeiture of the bond thing? They better be careful about their statement because he will get a lot more than the bond back when the civil suit hits on this. I can assure you on that. But that suggests there's some problem here. It could be maybe false statements on the part of the detective maybe, the police work was bad. There's some inconsistency certainly with the testimony of the two brothers. But the forfeiting of the bond is very odd. The statement that, upon full review of the evidence, you would think you would have reviewed the evidence fully before now.
BOLDUAN: Before you charge, right? I'm super confused. I think that's an OK place to be right now.
STELTER: Yes, exactly.
There are multiple impacts to the people involved here. Ryan Young mentioned some of the hospital workers who were fired. Jussie Smollett is off "Empire" for now. He was taken out of episodes on the show on FOX. There's no comment from FOX right now. At first, they were standing by their colleague. The producers were supporting Smollett. Then, they didn't know what to do for a while. So Smollett has been in limbo for weeks. BOLDUAN: Let me go back to Ryan Young, who has been following the twists and turns of this from the very beginning. He is in the courthouse as we await to hear from Jussie Smollett, possibly his attorneys, it sounds like, almost definitely.
Ryan, you mentioned the state's attorney who stepped away from the case. Can you talk to me more about that and how that came about?
YOUNG: It's a very interesting conversation. As we look at this, it's another ripple effect. I'm sure Joey remembers this as well. The state's attorney basically said, because of some relationships that she had and a phone call that she received, she stepped away from the case. We were kind of all baffled by it and shocked by this. Then it came out that maybe Michelle Obama's former chief of staff gave Kim Foxx a call on Jussie's behalf. All of that is being worked out to figure out where this was going. So many people talk about this young man and all the work he has done in the community. I think, maybe, at the end of the day, we will be somewhere in the middle about this. Right? We have been too far to go one way or the other way.
What we do know is there's video of the Osundario brothers going to a store to buy the supplies they needed to pull this off. They apparently told police, and they went and that is how they got this indictment because of the testimony those two men gave to police and the state's attorneys' office. What happened to that conversation? There was a grand jury involved in this and the grand jury heard that and that's how this all came forward. This can't just all go away. And someone has to explain the nuances here because we know those two men were in a hold for 47 hours talking to detectives. Before the 48th hour, when they were getting ready to be let go, something happened in that room and they started talking to police officers. It was then they started getting the information. We then heard all the power come from the police department here.
[11:50:15] And if you remember this, when this case was going on, so many people were talking about, A, the trust they didn't have in Chicago Police Department. You had people, including congresspeople, calling for federal oversight and hoping for a federal investigation. So you knew there was a sense of pride here when you're talking about the city. We're talking about an area of the city where they don't really have crimes like this. So this was standing out to everyone at the time, how could this happen in Chicago near the Lowe's Hotel? Why would that happen?
And then, to throw this in a mix, there were cameras all around the situation, but the one camera that was nearby didn't catch this whole altercation? And I'll never forget this because a detective told me this. The idea that Jussie Smollett after the attack walked back into his residence and he still had the sandwich in his hand from the Subway. All of this sort of came together. Police offered to take him to the hospital. He didn't want to go to the hospital with the police officers. He decided to self-transport himself.
There was stuff about this story from the very beginning where you say, how did we get here? I still feel like, at this moment, when they talk to the mics here, we still want to hear from the Osundario brothers. You're telling me the guys that fight in the Golden Gloves, may be involved in attacking and didn't land a solid punch or someone he's trying to attack? What was the motivation for the attack if they were paid the money to do personal training? There's so many questions here. And we're probably not going to get all of the answers.
I can tell, you all these people in the courthouse right now are abuzz. If you think about it, you have the actor and his team sitting around the corner. Usually, he comes in here with his entourage. It's his lawyers, it's his family. People outside want to go show their support. All of that is not here because they found out late last night this was happening. Now you have this all sort of happening now. We're just waiting to see what happens.
When he steps to the mic, is he going to talk about the case? Yes, he might say, I always said I was innocent. But what happens with the two other men? I think that's the big question here.
And what happens to the police department, because you certainly have detectives who probably believe in their case. And obviously, there were people sitting in the grand jury who now have heard all the evidence but were able to review it in a different way, and they came forth with the indictments. Then you look at the state attorney's office. They felt so strongly about the evidence, at some point, that they put a 16-count indictment. Some of us were thinking that was a little heavy. Even people who worked in the state attorney's office said they never believed he would serve a day in jail. Maybe they thought there would be community service. There's not even community service at this point.
What happens next? Every time I make a guess of it or someone calls me to say this is what's going to happen next, I almost don't want to believe it anymore.
YOUNG: He walked in the door and someone said the charges are going to be dropped.
BOLDUAN: Yes. There's the big question of what happens next, but we need to still be stuck on what just happened and is happening now.
To that point, as we wait for Jussie Smollett to come out along with his attorneys, I want to bring back in Brian Stelter and Joey Jackson.
There's something important that we know and there's a whole lot that we don't know, as we're very cautious in this moment, right? We know the prosecutors have dropped the charges after reviewing evidence, after a review of the evidence.
As you were making the point, Joey, and it was important, that doesn't necessarily mean that there has been -- we don't know if there's been a determination that Jussie Smollett is blameless.
JACKSON: Correct. BOLDUAN: Correct?
JACKSON: Exactly right. That's right. So that's the issue. What struck me again is you're talking about they're considering his voluntary service to the community and that he agrees to forfeit bond. When someone is blameless, that doesn't happen. The charges are simply dismissed and sealed, you get your bond back, we don't care what you did --
BOLDUAN: Why would you be expected to pay anything --
JACKSON: Absolutely. They don't care what you did for the community, what convictions you had, they're basing it on this case. So something happened. My view again, complete speculation, but based upon what they're saying, maybe there was a tremendous overreach by the police department here, and perhaps at the end of the day they felt this was an appropriate disposition, they were going at him too hard. But based on what occurred, based on the relationship Chicagoans historically have with the community, maybe was a way to say, you know what, let wiser minds prevail, let's move on.
BOLDUAN: Additionally, you have prosecutors have dropped charges, but that doesn't necessarily mean the police have changed their mind or their view in what they saw.
STELTER: Right, an open question. And we're waiting for Smollett and his attorneys to come and speak. I think we'll hear them say Smollett today will still say he was the victim of a hate crime. A source in his camping say8ing this was turned around in the last two and a half weeks because he is innocent and he's the victim of a hate crime. He is staying with that position. What's been happening behind the scenes is his lawyers, his team has been poking holes in these two brothers and the evidence that purportedly was provided. I think we'll hear very strong statements from his camp against the police and against the prosecutors in this case.
[11:55:11] BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Joey.
JACKSON: Unless there was a deal cut such that, you know, we're going to ramp down. I think a lot of people thought --
STELTER: Ramp down, you mean --
JACKSON: Bring it down a notch.
STELTER: That's interesting.
JACKSON: So that the community is inflamed enough. There have been entrenched positions on both sides. Stop the rhetoric. His attorneys, he's innocent, it was an overreach by the Chicago Police Department. Let's stop the Chicago Police Department blaming him for the man hours. And let's have some calm and peace and healing in this community.
STELTER: This is a collision, right? It's a collision of celebrity and crime --
BOLDUAN: It has been since the beginning.
STELTER: -- and a controversial police department. It's a collision of race and celebrity and all these factors.
STELTER: And so messy as a result. It was because an anonymous source said to TMZ Smollett said they were wearing MAGA hats and this was a Trump supporter attack against a black man. It became political within a few minutes. That's what has made this even harder to get to the truth about. There was pressure on the police probably because it became political. And whenever there's a celebrity involved, it takes on a life of its own.
JACKSON: It does, indeed.
STELTER: It's an ugly collision.
BOLDUAN: Shan, talk to me about this element of -- the prosecutors -- am I right to say, obviously, prosecutors change their minds. They have charged and reviewed more evidence and now they're dropping charges. That doesn't necessarily mean that the police department has changed its mind in what they turned up in their investigation. This kind of -- do you think that you're seeing -- what we could be seeing right now is a clash of those two thoughts?
WU: That's certainly possible. There have been many times when, as a prosecutor, I reviewed evidence given to me by law enforcement and I disagreed with them on whether it was appropriate to charge or not, and sometimes there's a fair amount of hostile tension that can grow there. In this case, however, I find it hard to believe they're not going to try to get on the same page because there's just so much at stake here. There certainly seems to be something up in the background. This reliance upon his community service makes no sense if you're talking about guilt or innocence.
And I agree with Joey to an extent, that they could be concerned about trying to ramp this down, but I would say they've gone so far out on a limb that if they had credible evidence of his guilt, it would have been more logical to give him something like a very small misdemeanor, probation, community service, rather than outright dismiss the charges. They can't do some non-disclosure agreement with him. He'll be free to speak after this. This is a lot of egg on their face. And I do think they could face civil liability as well.
BOLDUAN: Brian? STELTER: I think in the grand scheme of things, forfeiting the bond was a very small issue for Smollett's camp. They were looking at this. A source in his camp says to me, this kid wanted his life back. This kid, meaning Jussie, wanted it resolved.
BOLDUAN: Jussie gave up that right.
STELTER: Right, he gave up that bond money because now this is resolved. I think there may have been concerns about his show "Empire." "Empire" is a big show on FOX. It's a highly rated show. There may have been concerns about the ratings were performing without him on the show. Lots of factors here. But first and foremost, in Smollett's mind, wanting to be cleared up and resolved and to have his name cleared.
BOLDUAN: Shan, what is the potential of the next step after this?
WU: Well, I think, depending on what comes out -- I don't mean to harp on the civil litigation part of it -- but they may file suit against the city and the police saying they smeared his reputation and there's damages.
BOLDUAN: How good a case do you think they have?
WU: It really depends on what the reasons are, Kate.
BOLDUAN: The reasons.
And what do you -- do you agree with the potential -- and I think this is one of Jussie's attorneys right here coming out so I'm going to keep an eye on this camera.
As we've been waiting, Ryan Young is there on the ground for us. And we have been waiting to hear from the attorneys. They learned of an emergency hearing?
But Ryan Young has been there for us, and he was talking us through this this morning, that they heard rumors they just need to show up at the courthouse today. They get there and then they learn that all of this is happening. The Cook County courthouse in Chicago. And we're waiting right here as we're watching. So I think it was one of the attorneys for Jussie Smollett coming out, and we'll be hearing from Jussie, from his attorneys, and from many.
Brian, as I'm watching this, I am just blown away by the turn of events and what this has meant. And talk about a city that was in need of healing and is really in need of healing now. I wonder if this is a step in that direction or away from it.
STELTER: As we've said, this was political in the beginning, complicated from the beginning. And we can go back to four simple words we probably don't say often enough, "innocent until proven guilty." There's been a rush to judgment about this case in multiple directions.
STELTER: And right now, the thing we can do is wait and find out what his camp is going to say and what the mayor is going to say. How are they going to explain what happened here?
[11:59:02] BOLDUAN: Shan, you're a former federal prosecutor. You also have been a defense attorney as well. If you're working with Jussie Smollett, what's your recommendation of how he addresses this right now?