Jussie Smollett's lawyers meeting with prosecutors, police investigators

CHICAGO (AP) - Lawyers for "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett were meeting Wednesday with prosecutors and police investigators, a police official said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said he didn't know if Smollett was attending the meeting or the specifics of what was being discussed. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for the actor's phone and bank records.

Smollett's lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, didn't reply to requests for comment Wednesday.

Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, said the men attacked him at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. He said they beat him, made racist and homophobic comments and yelled "This is MAGA country" - an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" - before looping a rope around his neck and fleeing.

Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement Wednesday saying Smollett "continues to be a consummate professional on set" and that his character isn't being written off the show. The statement follows reports that Smollett's role was being slashed amid the police investigation into the reported attack.

Investigators went through hundreds of hours of private and public surveillance video from the area where Smollett said he was attacked but couldn't find footage of the beating. They did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question. And last week, police picked up the two brothers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the men's apartment.

The men, who were identified to multiple media outlets by their attorney as Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett before being released Friday. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said last week that media reports about the attack being a hoax were unconfirmed by case detectives, but on Saturday, he said the men provided information that had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation." He also said detectives had requested another interview with Smollett.

The Osundairos' attorney, Gloria Schmidt, hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Smollett's lawyers have said the actor was angered and "victimized" by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.

"Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying," Pugh and Henderson said in a statement Saturday.

Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett's lawyers, said they would "keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf." She didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation Tuesday, according to a one-sentence statement issued by a spokeswoman.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case," spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. She didn't elaborate as to how Foxx was familiar with anyone in the case and she said Foxx would have no further comment. Foxx's first assistant, Joe Magats, will oversee the case, the office said.

Also on Tuesday, the two brothers from Nigeria and their lawyer went before prosecutors and police at the Cook County courthouse. The brothers and their attorney were ushered in and out of the building in total secrecy – treatment rarely granted by prosecutors and usually reserved for celebrities like the time Oprah Winfrey went there for jury duty.

Attorney Gloria Schmidt was seen walking out of a room marked “Grand Jury” and when asked about her clients, she said she simply had no comment.

Police tell FOX 32 the brothers did not testify before a grand jury. Police also say the brothers are cooperating as it appears they are trying to build a case against Smollett.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are still investigating the hate letter that was sent to Smollett at the “Empire” studios. That is a separate investigation from the one conducted by Chicago police. If the feds find that Smollett did send that letter to himself and can prove it, he could also be facing federal charges separate from the case that Chicago PD is building.

Foxx recusing herself comes on the same day CPD investigated but dismissed a tip that on the night "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett reported being attacked by two masked men, he was in an elevator of his apartment building with the two brothers later arrested and released from custody in the probe, a department spokesman said Tuesday.

Former Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez took shots at her successor's recusal Wednesday, writing on her public Facebook page: "Maybe I should have just recused myself from the difficult cases that came across my desk when I was State's Attorney. I was under the impression that when the voters elected me and I took my oath of office it meant I had to do my job."