10/3/2019 11:33:00 AM Judge to weigh bias by Smollett special prosecutor
CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago judge could decide this week whether the special prosecutor investigating possible conflicts of interest in Jussie Smollett’s criminal case has a conflict himself, the latest twist in a saga marked by turns and reversals since the “Empire“ actor reported a racist, homophobic attack that police say he staged against himself.
Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, appointed six weeks ago to look into whether the office of top Chicago prosecutor Kim Foxx acted properly in abruptly dropping charges against Smollett, disclosed in a court filing this week that he co-hosted a 2016 fundraiser for Foxx and wrote her campaign a $1,000 check.
Judge Michael Toomin, who selected Webb, is expected to address the issue at a Friday hearing. But it’s not clear whether he is seriously considering yanking the federal prosecutor-turned-star lawyer from a case that has drawn worldwide attention and sparked debate about whether Chicago authorities have been too hard on Smollett or given him favorable treatment.
Stakes in the investigation are high. While Smollett maintains he was the victim of a real attack in January, the special prosecutor could seek to reinstate charges or bring new ones if he concludes the original charges were improperly dropped. Any such finding could also politically damage Foxx, who in 2016 became Cook County’s first black female state’s attorney.
Webb’s investigation includes looking into whether Foxx’s calls with a Smollett relative and an ex-aide of former first lady Michelle Obama influenced the decision to dismiss charges. While Foxx recused herself before that March decision, communications released later by her office showed she continued to weigh in on the case. Webb is a Republican; Foxx is a Democrat.
Webb, 74, is a widely respected, even legendary figure to many in legal circles. As U.S. attorney in the 1980s, he played a central role in a watershed corruption investigation called “Operation Greylord,“ which sent dozens of Chicago judges and lawyers to prison.
And Webb has been the go-to for years for judges, agencies and companies seeking someone with legal gravitas to oversee their investigations.