Even by Chicago’s ethical standards, this is tough to believe.
When news that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had turned legally from a victim to a criminal suspect in an alleged street attack in the Windy City in late January, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx made a formal announcement she was recusing herself from the case.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that Foxx’s recusal was over “conversations she’d had with a relative of the actor.”
The conversations were apparently enough that the prosecutor was afraid they might taint Chicago’s squeaky clean image of civic honesty and integrity. (This is the city that gave Barack Obama his start in national politics after all.)
This is the email published by the Chicago Tribune from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office chief deputy/chief ethics officer:
Looks pretty bang-up official to most people.
But as it turns out, that official recusal was something a good deal less than official. In fact, according to Patch.com, the state attorney’s office is now saying it wasn’t a recusal at all.
When Foxx announced her recusal, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kiera Ellis said in a statement, according to Patch, “it was a colloquial use of the term rather than in its legal sense.”
“Instead, in an abundance of caution, Fox informally separated herself from the decision-making over the case and left it to her Assistants, as happens in 99.9% of all cases handled by the Office,” Ellis’ statement said, according to Patch.
There might have been a very good reason for Foxx to make the recusal “in a colloquial sense rather an in its legal sense.” As Patch reported, if the state’s attorney had really recused herself, it would have meant the Smollett case would have been turned over to a special prosecutor under Illinois state law.
“(T)he State’s Attorney may file a petition to recuse himself or herself from a cause or proceeding for any other reason he or she deems appropriate and the court shall appoint a special prosecutor as provided in this Section.” (Emphasis added.)
That’s not what happened in the Smollett case, of course. Instead, under Foxx’s “colloquial” recusal, the Smollett prosecution was handed off to Foxx’s chief underling, First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, to see it through.
That meant the office Foxx is in charge of was still in charge of the case, which likely meant that Foxx was still in charge of the case in any sense that matters.
And as texts messages also published by the Tribune show, Foxx was in communication about the Smollett case with Tina Tchen, a Chicago attorney who — lo and behold — was a top aide to former first lady Michelle Obama during Obama’s White House years, including a stint as chief of staff, according to Fox News.
Tchen, in turn, put Foxx in touch with the Smollett relative.
Nothing to see here, folks, move along.
So, what the country is looking at now is a Chicago prosecutor who pretended to officially recuse herself from a high-profile case who never really recused herself at all. And she just happens to be in communication with the suspect’s family, through the conduit of a former top aide to a woman married to a former president of the United States — and who both came up in the unseemly world of Chicago politics.
And it all results in prosecutors dropping all charges against a man charged with 16 felony counts — for no reason anyone outside the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office finds remotely acceptable.
The fact that the felony suspect happens to be famous, black, gay and a hater of President Donald Trump couldn’t have had anything to do with it, could it?
The image of a part of the justice system in the United States being so obviously and arrogantly rigged even had the National District Attorneys Association issuing a news release that, while it never actually accused the Cook County prosecutors of anything, made it clear just how badly the case was handled.
— Mary Ann Ahern (@MaryAnnAhernNBC) March 28, 2019
The news release points out that in a high-profile case, the public does not always know everything that prosecutors do, and that “it is easy for emotions to run high and finger pointing to ensue.”
True enough, of course. But the release then makes three points that are utterly damning in the Smollett case:
“First, when a chief prosecutor recuses him or herself, the recusal must apply to the entire office, not just the elected or appointed prosecutor.”
(Strike one, Cook County.)
“Second, prosecutors should not take advice from politically connected friends of the accused.”
(Read “take advice” to include “have behind-the-scenes contact with” and that’s strike two, Cook County.)
“Third, when a prosecutor seeks to resolve a case through diversion or some other alternative to prosecution, it should be done so with acknowledgment of culpability on the part of the defendant. A case with the consequential effects of Mr. Smollett’s should not be resolved without a finding of guilt or innocence.”
(Strike three, Cook County, and you’re out. )
That last part is particularly important, but also sad in a way.
While the Smollett case might — at the moment — have no legal “finding of guilt or innocence,” every sentient American knows exactly what happened here.
A celebrity — as famous for his sexual orientation and politics as for any acting ability — has gotten off on a criminal charge, and he and his supporters are thumbing their noses at the American legal system.
Now, the prosecutor who’s letting that happen deserves to be out of a job.
Jussie Smollett may have gotten off, but the Cook County state’s attorney is increasingly looking corrupt enough to be turned out of office.
And no matter how her office’s spokeswoman tries to explain Foxx’s way out of a p.r. disaster (“colloquially”? seriously?), the rest of the country can see the reality here.
The Smollett case was a sham from the beginning, from the fake attack to the fake prosecution to the fake resolution.
But the fake recusal by Kim Foxx?
Even by Chicago’s ethical standards, that one is tough to believe.
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