Jussie Smollett & Michelle Obama: What’s the Link?

Getty Jussie Smollett and Michelle Obama: What's the link?

Now that the charges against Jussie Smollett have been dropped, more scrutiny is falling on whether there is a link between the Smollett case and Michelle Obama. However, that link doesn’t come through the former First Lady directly. Rather, it comes through a former top aide of hers who is now working as a lawyer in Chicago.

Smollett also has met and spoken positively about the Obamas, sharing a photo of himself in February 2018 with them on Twitter and writing, “With my big bro Jojo, @MichelleObama & @BarackObama back when the White House was the Kingdom of Wakanda…🙌🏿😩🙅🏾‍♂️🙅🏾‍♀️🙅🏾‍♂️🙅🏾‍♂️.”

Jussie Smollett and Michelle Obama once danced on stage, and he performed musically at the Obama White House in honor of Ray Charles (he also donated money to the campaign of Hillary Clinton).

What’s the connection to the Chicago case, though, if any?

Here’s the bottom line: Kim Foxx, the Cook County State’s Attorney, tried to convince Chicago police to turn the Jussie Smollett case over to the FBI, Chicago newspapers reported. Her action came after a conversation with Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff and with a Smollett relative who has not been named. You can read those texts here.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the effort by Foxx came after a former Michelle Obama chief of staff reached out to Foxx. The newspaper reported that the chief of staff and lawyer was a supporter of Smollett. She was described as Tina Tchen, “a Chicago attorney and former chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama,” by the Sun-Times.

Daily Mail reports that Tchen and Smollett’s sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell were pictured together at events, and “both of Smollett’s sisters also worked for the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012.”

However, Foxx ultimately recused herself from the case. Still, the contact with Tchen, a person of influence in the Obama circle, has led to criticism against the Cook County State’s Attorney in some circles. “Recusing herself, but not her administration, is a distinction without a difference,” Fraternal Order of Police Second Vice President Martin Preib told The New York Post. “What underling is going to go against their boss’s wishes?”

Here’s what you need to know:


The Charges Against Jussie Smollett Were Dropped Even Though He Was Not Exonerated by Prosecutors

Michael Monico Jussie Smollett

GettyJussie Smollett leaves Cook County jail after posting bond on February 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett has been accused with arranging a homophobic, racist attack against himself in an attempt to raise his profile because he was dissatisfied with his salary.

On March 26, 2019, the Empire actor’s attorneys made the big announcement that prosecutors had dropped charges against Smollett, who stood accused of multiple felonies for allegedly faking a hate crime attack. “He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment,” his lawyers said in a statement.

However, the explanation was complex. Usually, in Cook County, deferred prosecution agreements involve a period of time in which the defendant must meet certain conditions while being monitored. In this case, the charges were dismissed on the front end, but there doesn’t seem to be a typical deferred prosecution agreement in place (and Smollett’s lawyer said there wasn’t one). You can read an analysis of that question here.

Foxx had recused herself from the case, and her top deputy, Joe Magats, made the decision, according to a journalist for the New York Times, who quoted Magats as saying, “We stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him and we stand behind the charges in the case. The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence.” New York Times reporter Julie Bosman quoted Joseph Magats as saying, “We didn’t exonerate him.”


Foxx Was Accused of Writing Tchen & a Smollett Relative About the Case

Jussie Smollett charges dropped

Getty

Tina Tchen is tied to the Emanuels as well as the Obamas. However, Rahm Emanuel joined Superintendent Eddie Johnson in expressing anger over the dropped charges.

“This, without a doubt, is a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence and power you’ll get treated one way. Other people will be treated another way,” Emanuel said in a joint news conference with Johnson, who also criticized the decision. “There is no accountability then in the system. It is wrong, full stop.”

The Chicago police superintendent didn’t know the decision was coming, reports CBS Chicago. According to CNN, the records were sealed.

“After reviewing all of 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 to this case,” the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office stated in an email to CBS Chicago.

Tina Tchen is described as friends with the wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to The Chicago Tribune, which also reported on the contact. Foxx reached out to the police Superintendent Eddie Johnson after Tina Tchen emailed Foxx “saying the actor’s family had unspecified ‘concerns about the investigation.’”

According to The New York Post, Tchen “passed Foxx’s number to a family member of Smollett” and emailed Foxx that Smollett’s family had “concerns” about the investigation. This exchange occurred before Smollett was charged.

tina tchen

GettyTina Tchen, Chair of the Recording Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force speaks onstage during the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards – Entertainment Law Initiative at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on February 08, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.

The Tribune described Tchen as a “close friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife” who said she “was acting on behalf of” Jussie Smollett and his family. According to The Tribune, a relative “later exchanged texts with Foxx.” The Tribune summarized some of the electronic communications documenting contact as follows:

The newspaper reports that Foxx wrote Tchen on February 1, with the message reportedly saying: “Spoke to the Superintendent Johnson. I convinced him to Reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation.”

Foxx is alo accused of texting the unnamed Smollett relative and writing, “Spoke to the superintendent earlier, he made the ask. Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted.” When the relative wrote back, “Omg this would be a huge victory,” Foxx responded, “I make no guarantees, but I’m trying,” the Tribune reported.

Foxx told the Sun-Times that the family member was worried about leaks from the police investigation. Foxx told the newspaper: “They had no doubt about the quality of the investigation, but believed that the FBI would have a tighter lid on the information.”


Chicago’s Police Union Wants a Federal Investigation of Foxx’s Handling of the Jussie Smollett Case

kim foxx

Joined by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announces that charges have been filed against singer R. Kelly on February 22, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Despite Foxx recusing herself from the Smollett case after the messages emerged between her, the Smollett relative, and Tina Tchen, the Chicago police union wants a federal investigation into her handling of the case. That call for an investigation came on March 19 even before the charges against Smollett were dropped.

“That recusal is wholly insufficient,” FOP president Kevin Graham said in a statement. “In order for Ms. Foxx to properly charge and try this case, her entire office should have recused itself and a special prosecutor been appointed.” 1st assistant SA Joseph Magats took over the case at that time.

Foxx had recused herself from the Smollett case in February and a statement explained, “Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.” According to ABC 7, she recused herself “after having a conversation with a relative of Smollett about the case.”


Tina Tchen Spent Eight Years at the White House

tina tchen

US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and cabinet secretaries meet with the Council on Women and Girls in the Oval Office of the White House on January 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. From left: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Biden, Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls Tina Tchen.

On her LinkedIn page, Tina Tchen describes herself as a “Litigation lawyer, former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, and activist for women’s issues.” Since 2017, she has been a partner at Buckley Sandler, LLP.

Before that, she spent eight years at the White House. Her LinkedIn page lists the following positions there:

Executive Director, Council on Women and Girls
Dates Employed 2011 – 2017
Employment Duration 6 yrs

Title Chief of Staff to the First Lady Michelle Obama
Dates Employed 2011 – 2017
Employment Duration 6 yrs

Title Assistant to the President
Dates Employed 2011 – 2017
Employment Duration 6 yrs

Title Director, Office of Public Engagement
Dates Employed 2009 – 2011
Employment Duration 2 yrs

Before working in the White House, Tchen was a litigation lawyer. She is a graduate of Northwestern and Harvard Universities, according to her page.

kim foxx

Kim Foxx attends Raising Our Voices: Supporting More Women in Hollywood & Politics at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills on February 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.

For her part, Kim Foxx is the first African-American woman to be the top Cook Cou
nty prosecutor. According to her bio, Kim Foxx, also known as Kimberly M. Foxx, is “the first African American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – the second largest prosecutor’s office in the country.” She took office in 2016 promising to make the office fairer and more transparent.

She has focused, in part, on exonerating people convicted as a result of what she sees as misconduct by Chicago police.

“She has revamped the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, resulting in overturned convictions in over 60 cases, including the first-ever mass exoneration in Cook County for 15 men whose convictions stemmed from misconduct by a Chicago Police Officer,” the bio says. She was previously a Guardian ad litem and assistant prosecutor.

Foxx’s campaign was funded in part by George Soros money, according to Politico, which wrote, “Soros next piled money into two of the biggest jurisdictions in the country: Houston’s Harris County (his lone losing effort so far) and Chicago’s Cook County, where he funded one of several groups that helped Kim Foxx defeat incumbent state’s attorney Anita Alvarez.” The primary focused on the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.