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President Donald Trump says FBI will look into Jussie Smollett case

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/28/2019 David Jackson and Aamer Madhani

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday he would have the FBI and the Justice Department review "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's case.

"It is an embarrassment to our Nation!" Trump tweeted.

It is unclear what, if anything, federal authorities could do about Smollett after local prosecutors in Chicago decided to drop the case against him.

Trump's critics said the president is playing racial politics with the Smollett case, seeking to undercut the victims of real racial violence that is on the rise.

"By claiming a false attack, Smollett tried to exploit the hate @realDonaldTrump has stirred," tweeted David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama. "Now, predictably, Trump is moving to exploit Smollett’s exploitation. Talk about a vicious circle!"

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The FBI has been investigating at least one matter in the Smollett case for weeks.

The agency began probing whether Smollett had any role in sending a threatening letter that was mailed to the actor at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed a week before the alleged assault, a federal government official who has been briefed on the investigation told USA TODAY. FBI officials in Chicago declined to comment.

The letter, which was received on Jan. 22, contained a white substance that was later determined to be acetaminophen, or Tylenol.

Prosecutors in Chicago announced Tuesday they were dropping disorderly conduct charges against Smollett for filing a false police report. The decision came less than three weeks after the actor was indicted on charges that he paid two men to stage a hoax attack to make him look like the victim of a racist hate crime.

Smollett’s legal team objects to comments to the media made by Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office officials, saying prosecutors and police are "continuing their campaign" against the actor. Prosecutors said they’ve dropped the charges, but insist that doesn't mean Smollett was exonerated of wrongdoing.

News of the dropped charges outraged a variety of officials, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

"This is a whitewash of justice," Emanuel declared. "It’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax. He’s still saying he's innocent, still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare he? How dare he?"

The president and his allies have frequently attacked Smollett, accusing him of trying to implicate Trump supporters in the alleged attack on him.

Last month, Trump invoked his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" in tweeting at Smollett: "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA."

Police and prosecutors say Smollett paid two brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, $3,500 to stage an attack on Smollett near his apartment building in Chicago’s swanky Streeterville neighborhood, in which he was made to look like the victim of a vicious hate crime.

Police identified Smollett as a victim of an attack for weeks after the incident. The case shifted gears after the Osundairo brothers, who were on the cusp of being charged by police, told investigators that they worked with Smollett to carry out the attack.

The brothers told detectives Smollett hoped to use the incident to raise his profile and salary, Johnson said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Donald Trump says FBI will look into Jussie Smollett case

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