As Chicago cops seek more information from Jussie Smollett over what really went down in the alleged assault of the "Empire" star nearly three weeks ago, the showrunner of the long running Fox drama has today once again spoken up in support of the increasingly embattled actor.
Taking to social media Sunday for the second time for Smollett since the supposed racist and homophobic attack in the early hours of Jan. 29 in the Windy City, "Empire" executive producer Brett Mahoney was unequivocal in his language and meaning:
"Empire" broadcaster Fox, Donald Trump and others expressed support for the actor, who portrays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong co-created series in the immediate aftermath of attack. “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of 'Empire is patently ridiculous,” said 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment on Feb. 14 when some local Chicago me'dia were reporting that a possible exit from the series was the actor’s motivation to stage a “potential hate crime,” as the CPD called it, on himself.
“He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” the Fox units added on Valentine’s Day. Now, with the exception of Mahoney, the wide spread outrage over the assault on Smollett has been replaced by silence in recent days as the focus of the case has shifted.
The strong and reiterated belief from the showrunner and EP comes as the series continues production with Smollett and the investigation by the Chicago PD has seemingly centered its spotlight onto the actor himself. Detectives now want to question Smollett on if and how he was involved in the planning of the attack itself.
On Feb. 15, the police released Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo without charges after initially considering the brothers suspects in the attack.
Authorities had identified the former "Empire" extra and his sibling as the “persons of interest” seen in the photographs snagged from the upscale Chicago neighborhood where Smollett lives and said he was assault violently with bleach poured over him and a rope thrown around his neck.
With a potential prosecution trigger to be pulled soon and ever-increasing whispers that police believe that Smollett may have orchestrated the whole thing, the Osundairos are now “fully” cooperating with the cops. Evidence seems to have emerged that Smollett’s personal trainer and his brother purchased the rope that Smollett had on him when he first spoke to police in the morning of Jan. 29.
Smollett’s defense lawyers put out a seething statement on Saturday that the actor “has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack.” They added bluntly, “nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Still, a law enforcement source told Deadline on Sunday that they have a “sense of frustration” over the lack of formal response for a further sit-down to go over new evidence that has come to light on the matter.
That frustration is fed in part because of despite the assurances from attorneys Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson that the actor will “continue to cooperate” with the investigation.
Speaking on "Good Morning America" on Feb.14 in his first interview since the Jan. 29 incident, Smollett said he thought the attack occurred because of his high profile criticism of the former "Celebrity Apprentice" host. “I come really, really hard against 45,” the actor told "GMA" co-host Robin Roberts. “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
Mahoney has remained consistent in his support of Smollett over the past three weeks since news of the attack first became known.
“Jussie is a proud, gay black man, and I’m not sure if the cowards were trying to beat the pride, gay or black out of him but he’s strong and we’re happy he’s back at work,” Mahoney said onstage during part of Fox’s TCA presentation on Feb. 6.
"Empire" is set to return for the second half of its fifth season on March 13, with Smollett.