Two Chicago police officers have told both CNN and CBS that Empire actor Jussie Smollett may have orchestrated his own attack in January.
Last month Smollett reported to police that he was attacked in the early morning hours of January 29, when two men approached him and attacked him on the street in Chicago near his home telling yelling “This is MAGA country.”
Smollett said the men also slipped a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance onto him while calling him racial and homophobic slurs, which prompted a hate crime investigation by local law enforcement. Chicago police took two men into custody on Wednesday but they were released Friday evening. CNN reports the two men, who are brothers, and at least one of whom reportedly worked on Empire as an extra, are now fully cooperating with law enforcement.
The brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, says they have provided evidence to Chicago PD to corroborate that Smollett was involved in purchasing the rope, according to CBS. New details published Saturday by CBS News say the men were paid $3,500 by Smollett to stage the attack, which they had rehearsed days prior. After the attack, the brothers fled for Nigeria and returned days later. They say Smollett was supposed to pay them an additional $500 upon their return, CBS reports.
A spokesperson for the department told CBS after the bothers were released that the detectives on the case “have additional investigative work to complete.” The Advocate reports that Smollett has retained two criminal defense attorneys to represent him in light of allegations that the attack may have been coordinated. According to a spokesperson for Smollett, one of the brothers was Smollett's personal trainer, and therefore, "it is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity."
The details of the attack spurred immediate support from many notable celebrities and politicians. Reporter April Ryan asked Donald Trump about the attack, since the reference to “MAGA country” was related to his “Make America Great Again” campaign. Trump said in January that the attack was “horrible. It doesn’t get worse as far as I'm concerned.”
In part, because of the "MAGA" claim, the story of the attack also brought on doubt from others. Earlier this week, Smollett responded through a spokesperson to rumors that he may have been lying about the attack in a statement saying that he “is the victim here, which has been stated by the Superintendent of Police. Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police. Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie’s account of what happened that night consistent and credible. Superintendent Johnson has been clear from day one that Jussie is a victim. We are continuing to work closely with the Chicago PD and remain confident that they will find Jussie’s attackers and bring them to justice.”
In fact, one rumor was that Smollett staged the attack because he was going to be written off the show, but 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment debunked those rumors in a statement to Deadline. “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous," the statement reads. "He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Also this week, Smollett spoke to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts to give his account of the attack and to address rumors that the assault was fabricated. "It's not that you don't believe this is the truth,” he said,” you don't even want to see this is the truth."
This article was updated (Feb. 17 at 1:30 p.m. EST) with more information about the brothers' allegations and whereabouts following the date of the attack.