Empire actor Jussie Smollett has given his first sit-down interview about being the victim of a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago last month.
Airing on Good Morning America on Thursday morning, the interview, conducted by ABC’s Robin Roberts, will include questions about the incident and what he was doing at the time of the alleged attack.
In a brief promo for the interview, Smollett is seen tearing up after Roberts asks him if he feared for his life at any point during the attack.
The 36-year-old Smollett claims he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 after leaving a Subway restaurant in Chicago’s downtown Streeterville neighborhood. Smollett told police that he was talking on his cell phone with his talent manager, Brandon Moore, when two men approached him and began yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him. They then began beating him about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on him, which police believe to be bleach.
At some point during the attack, the men wrapped a rope around Smollett’s neck. Surveillance video from the area shows two figures walking in the area where Smollett says the attack occurred, but does not contain footage of the actual attack. Video does show Smollett leave the camera’s view, and emerge over a minute later “wearing a rope like a neck tie,” according to Chicago police.
Moore later told police that he heard the attackers calling Smollett “Empire faggot [racial expletive]” and shouting “This is MAGA country!”
Smollett eventually returned to his home and called police about 40 minutes after the attack. Officers who responded to the house noted that the actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and a rope draped around his neck. He was taken to a hospital and treated for injuries sustained during the attack.
While police publicly say they are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, and characterize Smollett as “cooperating” with detectives, the department has also noted that Smollett initially declined to hand over his cell phone or phone records to detectives, which made it hard to confirm whether he was indeed on the phone with Moore at the time of the attack.
When he did turn in phone records, he did so in PDF format, and the records were heavily redacted. As a result, detectives rejected the records and have asked Smollett to submit his phone bill or a download of his entire phone, reports Entertainment Tonight.
A representative for Smollett released a statement noting that the actor is “the victim here.”
“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,” the statement said.
“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. Any redacted information was intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.”
Smollett received an outpouring of support in the wake of the attack, with even President Trump weighing in to say the attack was “horrible.”
But several news and media outlets, particularly those supportive of the president, including National Review and the conservative blog Gateway Pundit, have questioned the veracity of Smollett’s account. Conservative radio host and Mediaite contributor John Ziegler even penned an opinion column in which he posits that Smollett lied about the attack — and that police don’t believe his account.
In the column, Ziegler alleges that police and media outlets continue to treat the story as fact because they don’t want to be seen as questioning the veracity of a black, gay, liberal celebrity who might be a victim of a hate crime, or deal with any blowback for calling into question the events surrounding the alleged attack.
“As a conservative, I look at this as his Political Correctness Force Field. Smollett’s protection here is literally about as strong as it gets, especially in Chicago, a city that has a large black population and is extremely liberal,” he writes.
In response to speculation surrounding whether Smollett lied, FOX 32 Chicago’s Rafer Weigel tweeted last week that Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Smollett is still being treated as a victim as this time, but will be held “accountable” if police believe he made a false report. Weigel later opined that he did not believe that Chicago Police would allow the case to remain unsolved, so they’ll either find the alleged attackers or charge Smollett with filing a false report.
Since so many have asked me if @Chicago_Police will let #JussieSmollett case go unsolved, I’ll give my opinion. Given the high-profile nature of the crime, I don’t believe so. I believe they’ll either find the perpetrators responsible or charge #Smollett w/ filing a false report
— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) February 8, 2019
Smollett released a statement on Feb. 1 about the attack, and expressing frustration over “certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread” by media outlets about the incident. The following day, he appeared on stage at his West Hollywood show at The Troubadour, telling fans he was going to “stand strong” and believes “justice will be served.”
“Thank you so much, and I’m glad you came,” Smollett told the audience. “I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to. And I’m gonna stand strong with y’all, and I had to be here tonight. It sounds powerful but I couldn’t let those motherfuckers win. … Regardless of what anyone says, I will only stand for love. And I hope that you will all stand with me.”
Chicago police are also investigating a separate incident that occurred a week before the attack, when a postal worker dropped off a threatening letter at the studio where Empire is filmed. It was postmarked in the suburb of Bedford Park on Jan. 18, with the letters MAGA written in the upper-left corner of the envelope. The note, which was comprised of cut-up letters from books and magazines and contained a white powder inside, allegedly read: “You will die, black fag.” The powder was later to be crushed-up acetaminophen, an ingredient found in Tylenol reports the Chicago Tribune.
Police have not said whether they believe the incidents are related, but they continue to be investigated separately, with the FBI taking the lead in the mail case.
See a preview of Smollett’s interview on Good Morning America below:
EXCLUSIVE: Robin Roberts sits down one-on-one with Jussie Smollett, who says he’s "pissed off" after being attacked in possible hate crime.“How do you not believe that? It's the truth."See the interview TOMORROW on Good Morning America. https://abcn.ws/2DG4KVA
Posted by ABC News on Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece quoted a tweet from a conservative pundit that contained erroneous information about past clients of Sunshine Sachs, the PR firm representing Smollett.