Jussie Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during an impassioned press conference, in which he discussed what’s now popularly known as the “Jussie Smollett Hoax.”
“To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks,” Johnson said. “Celebrities, news commentators, and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.”
What was initially reported as a hate crime against a gay, black man by supporters of President Donald Trump was actually—in Johnson’s view—a “shameful” attempt by Smollett to stage a “publicity stunt.” The president, writing on Twitter, referred to Smollett’s comments as “dangerous.”
What’s the significance of Johnson’s comments on the Smollett case? What is the danger that Trump warned about on Twitter? Why did the media and presidential candidates weigh in so quickly before the facts were known? And what impact does all of this have on the 2020 elections?
Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek interviewed Steven Rogers, a Trump 2020 campaign advisory board member who headed the criminal investigations division of a New Jersey police department for almost two decades. He also is a former senior U.S. Navy intelligence officer and FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force member.
Jan Jekielek: We’re going to talk about this Jussie Smollett situation, what many people are calling a hoax. The Chicago police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, did a long press conference explaining what the department had found. And I’m wondering if you could kind of outline that for us? The thing that struck me about it was that it was a very definitive and passionate statement. And with your experience working in police, you might be able to offer a perspective. It was something different than I’m used to seeing.
Steven Rogers: Keep in mind that it was not only a hoax—it was a very dangerous criminal act that this individual created in that city and possibly around the country. Now, with regard to the police superintendent, he did an outstanding job, obviously, in investigating the case, but more so quickly, getting the correct and truthful information out to the public. That transparency on his part probably prevented more violence, not only in his city, but in some areas around the country. Keep in mind that the individual who committed this act named a specific group of people, and that would be the supporters of President Donald Trump, who in his view, according to his actions, regarding the reason why the crime was perpetrated upon him, was because of the so-called rhetoric of the president and the MAGA supporters, which we know is completely not truthful.
Mr. Jekielek: So, there were over 50 subpoenas, more than 100 people interviewed, there were over 50 cameras actually searched to get evidence. It feels like an astounding amount of police work, over a very few days.
Mr. Rogers: Well, that’s another reason why you give much credit to the Chicago Police Department and the superintendent. This was a very high-profile case, a very sensitive case. And it goes back to what I just said: If the police would have treated this, perhaps, less than what they did, there was a potential for more violence to be surfacing around the country. So, yes, manpower-intensive. I could imagine the tens of thousands of dollars it cost that city to investigate, but they wanted an airtight case. As the superintendent said, it wasn’t the technology that the department had to close this case, it was the leg work, the footwork, the handwork, and the investigative work of those police detectives.
Mr. Jekielek: Superintendent Johnson said that he was offended and angry, in the opening words of that press conference. Can you tell me more about, based on your experience, why he might have done that?
Mr. Rogers: I’ve got to tell you, it’s rare, isn’t it? It’s rare to see the leader of a police department come out and use those words, but the man loves his city. He loves his department. He’s very passionate about preventing crime in that city. He talked about the resources that were taken away from real victims of crime, and that’s victims of the violence in that city. So, if there was ever a role model for police chiefs around this country and around the world, it’s this man, because he was speaking not as a police superintendent, but I think more importantly as a father, and as a citizen of that community. He was speaking from his soul and his heart, and it certainly resonated with the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: He also said, and this really kind of struck me, that bogus claims—which it really appears that this almost certainly is one—cause harm. Can you expand on that?
Mr. Rogers: Well, sure. But let me give a few examples. In my experience in law enforcement, there have been many people who would come to me and our police officers and tell us that they were victims of crime. We would put a lot of resources into these investigations, and we’d find that they lied to us. So, why are they harmful? They’re harmful because when the real person, the real victim, comes to the police, you’re almost thinking, “Is this something that is going to be repeated over and over again?” especially if these individuals get away with these crimes. This is why it’s important. The second stage of this is the courts. The courts are going to have to lay heavy, heavy penalties on this individual, including jail time, so that other people aren’t encouraged to commit these acts.
Mr. Jekielek: Let me jump to a tweet that the president made; as all this is being uncovered, he said: “@Jussie Smollett What about MAGA (‘Make America Great Again’) and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments.” Why do you think the president did that?
Mr. Rogers: I’ll tell you: The president has worked very, very hard to create a great relationship with the minority community across this country. And I could attest to the fact that it is working, that he’s got a lot of pastors around this country, from the inner cities, working with him. He’s performed very well with regard to employment in the minority community, so the president is building bridges, and he is addressing the problems of racism in the country. So here, this Smollett comes along, and in one criminal act—one terrible criminal act—he tries to dismantle everything that the president of the United States has been doing. That’s No. 1.
No. 2 [is that] I work with organizations that work with MAGA supporters, I’ve been to rallies there where there have been 20, 30, 40 thousand MAGA supporters. And I can tell you that there has been no racial incidents. You’ve got one or two people who will get a little overexcited. Have you seen riots? Have you seen civil disturbances? Absolutely not. And many of those MAGA supporters are who? People from minority communities. So, that’s why the president tweeted that out. He believes that Smollett should apologize, as we all do, to the MAGA supporters of the president of the United States, and he should also apologize to the minority communities across this country for committing the act that he committed.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s switch gears a little bit here. When this was first reported by Jussie Smollett, and then a number of media picked it up, there were interviews, and … we will jump to the media in a moment. But a number of, even presidential candidates, basically, spoke out, I think on Twitter initially, notably Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, kind of condemning what had happened, assuming that this was factual. They seem to have jumped the gun. Perhaps it’s not the first time that we’re seeing people jump the gun. Can you comment on that?
Mr. Rogers: There’s a reason for that. Because the motives of those critics or the motives of those who supported Smollett, their motive was—it had nothing to do with him, nothing to do with the crime that was committed. It had everything to do with seizing an opportunity to do what? To criticize President Donald Trump, to again go after the president, to blame the president, to blame his supporters. So their motives are not pure. The politicians that came out and jumped the gun without any facts, without any police reports that were articulated by the police superintendent, they seized the opportunity to do what? To go after President Trump. So, if Jussie Smollett thinks he has friends in these people—it has nothing to do with him in their eyes. It has everything to do with their political agenda. There’s your reason why they did that.
Mr. Jekielek: Superintendent Johnson, also in his address in the press conference, chided the media for basically jumping the gun and reporting things that weren’t necessarily factual, as being factual. This actually was the same thing that we saw with the Covington kids story a few weeks earlier—at least that’s what I believe we’re seeing. What do you think that says about the media coverage of the president?
Mr. Rogers: Well, I’ve said, and I could attest to this fact, that with the exception of your network here, and some others—very few others—the media in this country is no longer reporting news. What they are doing is jumping on the political propaganda bandwagon in order to do damage to this president. The fact of the matter is that you are hard-pressed to find good news—and I’m not talking about good news, I’m talking about fair news, and the media jumps on these particular incidents, to do what? They care nothing about the victims, they care nothing about the facts, but they care everything about trying to bring the president down.
This is a very difficult message for a person like me to get across, because people find it hard to believe that the media in this country would do that. I could tell you this, and I’ve said this all over the country: Walter Cronkite, from years ago, would be rolling over in his grave if he saw what these media outlets are doing. But as I said earlier to a group of people here: He would rise from the grave if he came here and saw what your media outlet is doing, and others are doing, with regard to true journalism. That to me is very, very important, because we don’t have much of that here in this country today.
Mr. Jekielek: How is it that the superintendent—basically the way he talked about things to me—sounded like: “This guy is just guilty, I’ve decided this guy’s guilty.” There was no presumption of innocence in there, right? I don’t usually see people speak that way. So he feels he has an airtight case?
Mr. Rogers: He saw the evidence, and the biggest piece of evidence was the check. [Smollett] signed a check and paid off the two individuals he had commit the crime against him. You don’t do that, you [use] cash. So there were enough dots connected for this police superintendent to articulate the fact that this guy is guilty. There’s no question about it.
Now, his defense may not be a not-guilty defense. It may be “Can we reduce or have no jail time?” Because any defense attorney is going to realize there is enough evidence against this guy to put him away. My guess is they’re going to be fighting to make sure there’s no jail time.
Mr. Jekielek: This is something that struck me, again in light of what you were speaking about, with respect to media and so forth. Do you think that Smollett somehow felt like he might get a pass on doing this? How is it that someone even conceives of doing such a thing, I guess, is my question?
Mr. Rogers: Well, they conceive of doing such a thing because they believe they could get away with it. If they didn’t think they could get away with it, they wouldn’t be doing these things. Here’s an individual who probably felt that, because of the way the mainstream media have been projecting a lot of these incidents, kind of favoring this side of so-called victims of these bogus crimes, he probably thought he would be falling into that category. Don’t forget, he’s on a TV series, a popular guy, supposed to be a good actor, and he probably thought that this would boost his value, but instead, it certainly backfired.
Mr. Jekielek: What if he was successful? What impact do you think that would have had on Trump supporters, the campaign, and so forth?
Mr. Rogers: I don’t think very much because, as I’ve always said, people are responsible for their own actions. I hear time and again where there are incidents regarding people with MAGA hats on, or people at Trump events, and, right away, the media wants to blame President Trump because of some individual who decided to get out of hand. Well, you know what? The president has nothing to do with that. When I go out and speak, if somebody gets out of hand, and they had a few drinks, am I responsible for their actions? So, it wouldn’t have had much impact on that. People need to be accountable for their own actions and not continuously blame the next guy. You know the old saying, “The devil made me do it”? Well, you know what? That doesn’t fly anymore. Be accountable, be responsible for your own actions. That’s the way that would have played out if it did happen the way this individual said it happened.
Mr. Jekielek: Let me frame this question a different way as well. If we—if the general public, including perhaps myself—believed [the story] and this hoax-related evidence hadn’t come to light, how do you think that would have affected the vote in 2020?
Mr. Rogers: I guess the question is, what if it was real, what if it happened, what if it was all over the belief of the MAGA supporters of the president? I can tell you myself and others and probably the president would say, we don’t do things like that. We don’t start or commit acts of violence. We do things the right way. Do you know what the right way is? Get in the voting booth, get involved. And the president and his campaign has always said that we don’t want people to get involved in any violent confrontations. Exercise your rights of free speech, exercise the freedoms you have, but the last thing on earth that I know the president or any of his supporters want to get involved in is any act of violent confrontation with anyone. So, it wouldn’t have had much impact, other than we would have corrected some people’s courses.
Mr. Jekielek: What if something like this happened five days before the election?
Mr. Rogers: Again, I don’t think it would change much, because the president has solid support in this country, and people are smart today. Keep in mind with the internet and all of the news feeds we have, at least we do have a lot of good stuff over the internet and we do have stations that are bringing the truth in. I don’t think it would have much impact because the president’s accomplishments—which unfortunately are not talked about very much— far outweigh and outpace some of the negative things that have been portrayed about him around the country. Don’t forget our quality of life is really good in this country now. The economy is strong, the military is strong, and what he’s doing with regard to foreign policy is just outstanding. The man has kept every promise he’s made to the American people. They’ve given him a hard time. The democratic socialists have given him a hard time, especially with regard to the wall, but he’s keeping his promises. So, the impact of anything like this would have been minimal five days before the election.
Mr. Jekielek: Is there anything else you think that’s important to reference with respect to this Jussie Smollett situation?
Mr. Rogers: I do. What I think is important to reference is No. 1, be cautious before you pass judgment on any case. Let the police do their job. Make sure you get all the information before you pass any judgment. And No. 2, what is very important is that this individual goes to jail, and that he’s ordered to repay the city of Chicago and that police department every single dime that they expended on the investigation. That may discourage someone else from committing a similar act.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.