NEW JERSEY – A Democratic lawmaker who called the alleged hate crime attack against Jussie Smollett a “modern-day lynching” now says that he is withholding judgement in the case amid reports that authorities believe the “Empire” actor orchestrated a hoax.
“Well, the information is still coming out, and I’m going to withhold until all the information comes out,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, told reporters Sunday when asked about his past remarks on the Smollett case.
Booker’s remarks are a far cry from a tweet he posted in the hours after Smollett’s alleged attack was reported.
“The vicious attack on actor Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching. I’m glad he’s safe,” Booker wrote on Jan. 29.
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Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed that he was attacked on Jan. 29 by two white men who hurled racist and homophobic insults at him while he was walking in Chicago. The actor also claimed that his assailants placed a rope around his neck during the attack.
Democratic lawmakers and left-wing activists jumped to Smollett’s defense. In addition to Booker, California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris called the incident a “modern-day lynching.” New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted it was a “racist, homophobic attack.”
Chicago police now suspect that Smollett paid two acquaintances to stage an attack against him, according to reports from numerous outlets. The two men, who are U.S. citizens of Nigerian descent, were arrested Wednesday but released from custody Friday. They are reportedly cooperating with investigators.
Instead of backtracking on his earlier comments in the Smollett case, Booker shifted Sunday to a discussion of other hate crimes in the U.S.
“We know in America that bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise, in a serious way,” Booker told reporters.
Asked whether Smollett should comment publicly in the face of new information in the case, Booker said: “Again, I’m following this case as you are. We’ll see this happen.”
Booker was also asked whether Smollett’s apparent hoax undercuts an anti-lynching bill that the Democrat introduced earlier this week.
Booker dodged the question.
“We have seen painful realities surge in our country, a rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic attacks,” he said. “We’re seeing just vicious, horrific, cruel violence that’s motivated by bias and hate. We need to do more to protect all Americans and make sure all neighborhoods and communities are safe.”