Just days before Chicago police allegedly said the attack on Jussie Smollett was a fake, the Empire actor hired the same criminal defense attorney who represented former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
After many days of twists and turns in the story of the alleged attack on the actor, sources in the Chicago police department told Deadline that they had shifted the investigation onto Smollett himself and believe the actor helped orchestrate the attack.
“The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident,” a law enforcement source told the news outlet.
TMZ also reported that Smollett paid a pair of Nigerian brothers, friends who had initially been identified as suspects, to attack him on a cold night in January. Smollett initially claimed that he was beaten by two masked men who yelled “This is MAGA country!” in reference to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, then put a noose around his neck and poured a chemical on him.
Chicago police have not officially said that Smollett is a suspect in the incident, but it appears that the actor is lawyering up in preparation for a criminal defense. As the New York Post’s Page Six reported, Smollett hired the same criminal defense attorney used by Michael Cohen. The lawyer, Michael Monico, is a former federal prosecutor in Illinois’ Northern District, and confirmed this week that he had been hired to represent Smollett.
Monico represented Cohen on charges that he violated campaign finance laws with hush money payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Donald Trump. Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty and will be sentenced later this month.
Chicago police this week had arrested two Nigerian brothers — Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo — after identifying them as men seen on surveillance video near Smollett on the night he said the attack took place. The brothers were taken into custody, but were released without charges as police cited “new evidence” in the case. Later reports indicated that the men were friends with Jussie Smollett and worked out with him in the gym inside his luxury apartment complex.
As the Daily Mail reported, Chicago police now believe that Smollett paid the brothers $3,5oo to attack him and that they purchased rope used for the noose at a local hardware store.
Jussie Smollett has maintained that he was the victim in the attack, which he described as a hate crime.