Exclusive: Foxx emails and texts show Smollett case was a “distraction” that drew attention from top priorities — including R. Kelly

R. Kelly | Andrew Steinmetz

A review of thousands of emails and text messages from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s personal accounts raises a new possible explanation for her office’s decision to suddenly drop all charges against Jussie Smollett one year ago: The hoax hate crime case was drawing attention away from her top agenda items, including the prosecution of R. Kelly.

CWBChicago received nearly 4,000 pages of messages sent to Foxx’s personal cell phone and Gmail account in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why?

For the past year, speculation has run rampant about the motive behind prosecutors’ decision to suddenly drop all charges against Smollett less than three weeks after they successfully secured a 16 count felony indictment against him.

The most scandalous hypothesis is that the charges were dropped after a former aide to Michelle Obama intervened directly with Foxx on behalf of Smollett’s family.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn last month suggested Foxx “simply believed that dramatically dropping all charges against Smollett…would be an ideal way to illustrate her commitment to focusing the resources of her office on violent crime.”

About the only explanation that is provably incorrect is the reasoning given by Foxx herself: That her office regularly handles other cases exactly as it handled Smollett’s.

Last month, the court-appointed special prosecutor who is investigating all aspects of the Smollett case filed six new felony counts against the actor and said Foxx’s office “was unable to provide… documentary evidence” of any other cases that were handled like Smollett’s.

New insights

Foxx’s office last summer released more than 2,000 pages of Smollett-related emails and text messages to provide “transparency.”

But now, CWBChicago has secured thousands of additional text messages and emails that provide a fuller picture of communications among Foxx and her top aides in the weeks before and after Smollett reported the allegedly fake hate crime to Chicago police on Jan. 29, 2019.

Some of the most revealing documents are within 433 pages of messages between Foxx and senior staffers in a chat group known internally as the “Foxxhole.”

Foxxhole members routinely share top news stories related to the office’s priorities. Marijuana conviction reform, crooked cops, and stories about other jurisdictions’ progressive prosecutors are prime fodder for the group.

But, in the weeks leading up to Smollett’s hate crime case, one topic stole the show: Foxx’s efforts to build a case against R. Kelly. The Kelly story was generating national headlines for Foxx and her office in January 2019. And the Foxxhole filled with links to media coverage.

One senior aide linked to a TMZ story about Foxx’s efforts and boasted, “it’s on the splash page.”

Another wrote “NBC Nightly News” while sharing a link to Kelly coverage.

Foxx herself got into the swing of things: “Coming up on Good Morning America at 7:30.”

On Jan. 18, Foxx’s office scored another win in its public campaign against bad cops when a judge sentenced former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke to nearly 7 years in prison for the murder of Laquan McDonald. Again, the office principals shared a variety of stories about the case.

But, when news broke about Smollett’s hate crime allegations, the story barely made a blip in the provided communications.

And on Feb. 1, Foxx personally called the Smollett case “a distraction” she “[didn’t] want to waste any capital on” as she tried to get the investigation moved from her office and CPD into the federal system. “I’m just trying to help move this along,” she wrote.

The feds didn’t bite and the case remained with local authorities.

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Then, the Foxxhole and other communications returned to regular programming. A story about Van Dyke being beaten in prison. A number of stories about crooked cop Ronald Watts. And many reports about cannabis reform, including a New York Times story that said Foxx was “in a vanguard of big city prosecutors…who are moving away from marijuana cases.”

And, there was plenty more R. Kelly. 

High-profile attorney Michael Avenatti, who was representing some alleged R. Kelly victims, flew into O’Hare for a few hours on Feb. 9. A flurry of emails preceded his trip. Foxx’s office scrambled to make arrangements with federal authorities to have a meeting with Avenatti within the airport’s secure zone so he wouldn’t have to spend time going through security.

The state’s attorney’s files show Smollett didn’t get serious attention from Foxx or her top aides again until Feb. 19 — the day her office announced that she had “recused” herself from the case.

“Bullshit statement”

Documents show CBS2 reporter Brad Edwards was among the first to raise the recusal question with Foxx’s office.

“Brad from CH 2,” he emailed.”2 sources say Foxx to recuse herself from Smollett case [because] of family connection. About to tweet. Comment?”

Foxx personally approved her office’s response, which confirmed that she “has recused herself from the investigation.” But the statement did not address the rumored “family connection” that Edwards raised.

Two hours later, the state’s attorney’s office issued a second statement that said the recusal “was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.”

Foxx became incensed. In text messages with her chief of staff that night, Foxx called the second statement “bullshit” that had been approved by a member of her communications team. 

First State’s Attorney Joe Magats texted Foxx the next day: “Good morning. Just checking to see how you’re doing this morning.”

“I’m more frustrated than I was last night,” Foxx said.

“Ugh. I’m sorry. Hang in there.”

Asked about Foxx’s exchange with Magats, a spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office said, “We are unable to comment or discuss any information which may be relevant to the Special Prosecutor’s pending review of the Smollett case.”

Kelly charged

Two days later, Foxx’s office charged R. Kelly with ten felony sexual abuse counts involving four victims. For the next week, Foxx and her top aides shared page after page of R. Kelly news stories with barely a mention of the smoldering Smollett matter.

But the purported hate crime stormed back again on March 8. This time, it would not go away.

At 3:12 p.m., CWBChicago broke the national story that Foxx’s office had secured 16 felony counts against Smollett from a grand jury. Less than half an hour later, while sitting on a plane awaiting take-off, Foxx asked Magats if prosecutors had secured additional charges from a grand jury. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was about to do an interview, she said, and he just called her to see if the grand jury story was true. Magats confirmed that it was, but he said they couldn’t speak about it publicly for another six days. It was too late.

In a text that night, Foxx referred to the importance of the Kelly matter as she dismissed the Smollett case as merely a “washed up celeb who lied to cops.”

Five days later, news outlets first reported former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen had personally contacted Foxx on behalf of Smollett’s family, intensifying the media firestorm that was drawing attention away from Foxx’s preferred priorities.

In an unscheduled court hearing less than two weeks later, Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier dropped all charges against Smollett and the court record was sealed from public view.

Anyone in Foxx’s office who thought the unprecedented resolution would eliminate the Smollett “distraction,” was sadly mistaken.

“Just wish I could have anticipated the magnitude of this response,” Lanier said hours later in a text.

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About CWBChicago 6879 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com