The Jussie Smollett saga has driven a wedge into Obama World.
In yet another strange twist, the troubled actor’s case has pitted two key figures in the former president’s White House – who happen to be political heavy hitters in Chicago – against one another now that charges that Smollett faked a hate crime have been dropped.
On one side is Rahm Emanuel, the tough-as-nails outgoing Chicago mayor and former chief of staff to Barack Obama. On the other is Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney and Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
While the latter's role is cloaked in mystery, Emanuel has been straight-to-the-cameras about what he thinks of the decision to drop the Smollett case. A day after he called that stunning move a "whitewash of justice," the mayor fumed during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"This is actually making a fool of all of us," the mayor said. “Especially [in] a city that embraced not only him as an actor but more importantly the values of being whoever you are, whoever you love, whatever your background is, you have a home here. He took that, turned it around and tried to self-promote himself.”
Emanuel is now considering suing the actor to recoup some of the money the city wasted on its investigation. The Chicago mayor says he wants to recoup close to $150,000 in funds that were spent on the Smollett case, after all charges against the “Empire” actor were dropped following 16 hours of community service and an agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond.
Meanwhile, the former first lady’s chief of staff has been quietly advocating for the troubled actor behind the scenes.
According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Tchen reached out to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx just days after Smollett reported the alleged attack.
“I wanted to give you a call on behalf of Jussie Smollett and family who I know. They have concerns about the investigation,” Tchen wrote in a text message to Foxx. The Chicago lawyer also gave Foxx’s number to a relative of Smollett’s who was concerned about the Chicago police’s handling of the investigation, and hoped to have the case handed over to the FBI.
Foxx – who later recused herself from Smollett’s case due to her contact with the family – took the concerns to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
“They had no doubt about the quality of the investigation, but believed that the FBI would have a tighter lid on the information,” Foxx told the Sun-Times, adding that Johnson was originally receptive to the idea.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, however, said that while the FBI was involved in the investigation from the start, Chicago police never considered handing the case over to federal investigators.
Smollett reported on Jan. 29 that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on his way home from a sandwich shop. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and tied a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Smollett told police he could see that one of his attackers was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.
Soon though, the tides shifted and investigators accused Smollett of making the whole thing up because he was unhappy with his pay on "Empire" and believed the publicity ginned up from the incident would promote his career.
Smollett plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on "Empire."
Smollett was initially charged with one count of lying to the authorities on Feb. 20. A few days later, a grand jury indicted him on 16 felony counts of lying to authorities — eight counts for what he told the officer who responded to the report of the Jan. 29 attack in downtown Chicago, and eight counts for what he later told a detective about being the victim of a brutal racist and homophobic beating by two masked men.
For his part, Smollett has always maintained his innocence. After the charges were dropped Tuesday, he posed with fans outside the courthouse and thanked his friends and family for standing by him. He also thanked the state of Illinois for "attempting to do what's right."
Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.