By Chuck Ross
President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division recently revived the now-debunked claim that actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of an anti-gay, anti-black hate crime, saying on Twitter in January 2019 that the actor was attacked by two white men.
Kristen Clarke, the already beleaguered Biden nominee, also accused the Chicago police department of “demonizing survivors” after investigators sought access to Smollett’s cell phone during its probe of the attack.
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If confirmed, Clarke will oversee the U.S. government office that handles hate crime investigations. Clarke, who is president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, previously served as prosecutor in the criminal section of the civil rights division, where she handled police misconduct, police brutality, hate crimes and human trafficking cases.
“Jussie Smollett was subjected to a racist and homophobic attack,” Clarke tweeted on Jan. 29, 2019. “2 white men wearing ski masks attacked him, put a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him and as they yelled slurs. Prayers to @JussieSmollett for a speedy recovery from this hate crime.”
Jussie Smollett subjected to a racist and homophobic attack.
2 white men wearing ski masks attacked him, put a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him and as they yelled slurs.
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) January 29, 2019
Smollett, a gay black man, had claimed that two white men wearing pro-Trump hats attacked him near his home in Chicago while shouting “this is MAGA country.” The now-former “Empire” actor said that the attackers hurled anti-gay and anti-black slurs at him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Celebrities and prominent Democratic lawmakers initially accepted Smollett’s claims, touting them as evidence that President Donald Trump’s supporters were racist. Now-Vice President Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker tweeted in support of Smollett shortly after he made the allegations.
Clarke took her activism a step farther by criticizing the police for requesting access to Smollett’s cell phone. “To be clear — This is a BAD move by the Chicago Police Department,” Clarke tweeted on Feb. 1, 2019, in response to an NBC News article about the police request. “This is NOT how you treat survivors of a hate crime. Stop demonizing survivors and casting doubt on their claims if you want communities to trust that you will take #HateCrime seriously.”
To be clear — This is a BAD move by the Chicago Police Department. This is NOT how you treat survivors of a hate crime. Stop demonizing survivors and casting doubt on their claims if you want communities to trust that you will take #HateCrime seriously. @StopHateProj https://t.co/RIvF2tltly
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) February 1, 2019
A police investigation later revealed that Smollett fabricated the incident. Two men who knew Smollett, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, both of whom are black, have said that the actor paid them $3,500 to stage a fake attack against him.
A grand jury in Chicago indicted Smollett on Feb. 20, 2019, for filing a false police report. Kim Foxx, the Chicago state’s attorney, dismissed the charges, prompting calls for a special prosecutor. A state judge complied with those requests and on Aug. 23, 2019, appointed a special prosecutor to investigate why Foxx’s office dropped charges against Smollett. A grand jury in Chicago indicted Smollett again on six felony charges on Feb. 11, 2020, based on evidence from the special prosecutor’s probe.
The actor has insisted that he did not fabricate the incident.
More than a year after Smollett’s allegations fell apart, Clarke criticized the use of a special prosecutor to review Foxx’s handling of charges against the actor. Clarke asserted that prosecutors like Foxx “use their discretion every day” to decide how to handle cases. But Clarke lamented that the use of a special prosecutor was brought in to “undermine” Foxx’s power.
Clarke has come under scrutiny from Republicans for remarks she made while in college in the 1990s on racially-charged issues. As a student at Harvard in 1994, Clarke wrote to the student newspaper that black people had “greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities” than other races due to higher levels of melanin. Jewish groups at the Ivy League school criticized Clarke several months later for inviting Wellesley professor Tony Martin, the author of a book called “The Jewish Onslaught,” to speak on campus.
Clarke’s civil rights group, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, did not respond to a request seeking comment about her current position on the Smollett case or her remarks about the Chicago police department.
The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.
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