CHICAGO (AP/CNN) – Chicago police said Sunday they’re still seeking a follow-up interview with Jussie Smollett after receiving new information that “shifted” their investigation of a reported attack on the “Empire” actor.
Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN that Chicago police believe actor Jussie Smollett paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him that he reported late last month.
The trajectory of the investigation “shifted” after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them late Friday without charges, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday. He said police also reached out to Smollett’s attorney to request another interview with him.
Guglielmi said Sunday the interview had not yet been conducted. He declined to comment on published reports that police believe Smollett staged the assault or that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case. The reports cited unnamed police sources.
“We’re not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we’ve gotten,” he said.
Smollett, who is black and gay, has said he was physically attacked last month by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and “This is MAGA country!” He said they looped a rope around his neck before running away as he was returning home from an early morning stop at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him.
Pamela Sharp, a spokeswoman for Smollett, said Sunday that there were no updates “as of now.” Another spokeswoman, Anne Kavanagh, later said she couldn’t comment on whether Smollett had agreed to another interview.
Smollett’s lawyers said late Saturday that the actor felt “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault, adding that, “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.” The statement from attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson also said Smollett would continue cooperating with police.
Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily monitored area where Smollett said the attack occurred but were unable to find any footage of the incident. They did obtain images of two people they said they would like to question.
On Wednesday, Chicago police picked up the brothers at O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. They described them as “suspects” in the assault, questioned them and searched their apartment.
Then, late Friday evening they released the two men without charges and said they were no longer suspects. They said they had gleaned new information from their interrogation of them.
The sources told CNN the two men are now cooperating fully with law enforcement.
The sources also told CNN there are records that show the two brothers purchased the rope found around Smollett’s neck at a hardware store in Chicago.
One of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer, whom the actor hired to help get him physically ready for a music video, Smollett’s attorneys said in their statement.
“It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity,” the attorneys said.
Police have said they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime and considered Smollett a victim. Reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media from some politicians and celebrities. Smollett’s account of what happened also has been met with skepticism, particularly in the wake of the latest developments.
Smollett, who is also a musician, gave an emotional speech during a Feb. 2 concert in West Hollywood, California, saying he went ahead with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
He also gave an interview to Robin Roberts of ABC News that aired Thursday in which he said he was “pissed” at people who did not believe he was attacked.
“I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative,” he said. “I’m not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous. And it’s offensive.”
Earlier this week, police said reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax were unconfirmed.
Producers of the Fox television drama have supported Smollett, saying his character on “Empire,” Jamal Lyon, was not being written off the show.
Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.