(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the Department of Justice would “review” the uproar surrounding actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged with staging a fake hate-crime attack on himself in Chicago before prosecutors abruptly dropped the case this week.
Hours after Trump announced the review in a Twitter message calling the case a national embarrassment, the city sent the actor a letter demanding he reimburse police for $130,000 in overtime costs for the investigation.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said two men attacked him on the street at night in January, yelling homophobic and racist slurs, pouring a chemical on him and putting a noose around his neck while shouting support for Trump.
Investigators later charged Smollett with paying $3,500 to the men to stage the attack to garner public sympathy. Prosecutors dropped the charges on Tuesday, saying they stood by the accusation but that an agreement by Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond was a just outcome.
Smollett, 36, insists he is innocent and was the victim of a real attack.
Tina Glandian, one of his defense lawyers, told NBC News on Thursday that she was unconcerned by the review, saying, “To my knowledge, nothing improper was done.”
The county prosecutors’ decision stunned the city’s police chief, prompted the police union to demand a federal investigation, and enraged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, who called it a “whitewash” that made a fool of the city.
DEMAND FOR PAYMENT
Trump, a Republican, echoed those remarks on Thursday.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice. “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”
On Thursday, the mayor said he would seek to have Smollett reimburse Chicago for investigation costs, and rejected Trump’s federal review, telling the president to “sit this one out.”
Chicago Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel, who heads the municipal Department of Law, sent Smollett a letter on Thursday demanding payment within seven days of more than $130,000 to cover police overtime expenses.
“If the amount is not timely paid, the Department of Law may prosecute you for making a false statement to the city” under city ordinances, Siskel warned Smollett in the letter.
Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said enforcement of the city’s false statement code amounts to a civil action, not a criminal case, carrying a maximum fine of $1,000 plus up to three times the amount of damages to the city.
The city could also seek to recover court costs, collection costs and attorneys fees, but Smollett would face no jail time, McCaffrey said.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
The FBI has already had some involvement in the case, with agents investigating a threatening letter Smollett said he received prior to the attack, according to the Chicago Police Department.
The initial reports of two Trump supporters attacking a gay, black celebrity drew widespread sympathy for Smollett, particularly from Democrats. That faded quickly after the actor’s arrest, and the case was seized on by some as an example of what Trump likes to deride as “fake news.”
Smollett is best known for playing a gay musician on the Fox drama “Empire.” His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to “Empire” after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Groman in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Chang
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