“Early on they asked Jussie if he’d sign complaints against the 2 men who attacked him and he was clear that he would,”
Jussie Smollett agreed to sign complaints against two suspects in his attack – until the actor found out that the men in question were Nigerian brothers whom police suspect he paid to help him stage the incident, according to news reports.
In other words, Smollett may have been willing to testify against two innocent men to perpetuate what police are reportedly investigating as a hoax.
“Our sources say early on they asked Jussie if he’d sign complaints against the 2 men who attacked him and he was clear that he would,” TMZ reported Sunday. “But, when he found out the 2 brothers were the ones in custody we’re told he said he knew them, felt bad for them and declined to sign the complaints.”
WATCH: CNN Backpedals, “I Was Frankly Surprised’ How Many Believed Smollett”
Leaks to the press have increasingly suggested that Smollett staged the attack against himself in coordination with the two brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who worked with him on Fox’s “Empire” TV series. Smollett agreed to pay the brothers $4,000 for their help, sources have said, and the three men even rehearsed the event in the days before Smollett reported it late last month, triggering a national media meltdown.
The Osundairo brothers reportedly agreed to cooperate with Chicago police after they were confronted with evidence that they bought the rope allegedly used in the attack on Smollett at a local hardware store. They were initially considered persons of interest and then potential suspects, police said. On Wednesday, their home was raided and they were brought in for questioning by police. They have since been released and restored to the status of persons of interest.
WATCH:Trump-Blaming Jussie Smollett Crushed by President’s Unexpected Response to His Attack
Meanwhile, police have moved from investigating the attack as a potential hate crime to trying to figure out whether Smollett fabricated the whole affair, reports said. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi acknowledged Saturday that newly discovered information has “shifted the trajectory” of the probe, ABC reported.
What Smollett’s motives might have been for faking a bigoted attack against himself were unclear. Some reports have suggested that he was trying to avoid being written off “Empire,” but Fox and Smollett’s representatives both denied that he was at risk of being cut from the cast.
A grand jury will hear the case next week, TMZ reported, though the celebrity news site did not elaborate on who is facing charged or for what they might be.
Still, Smollett has continued to play the victim. The actor is “angered and devastated” and has been “further victimized” by reports that the men told police that he enlisted them to attack him, his attorneys said in a statement released late Saturday night. They outright denied the claims against their client.
WATCH: NYT “If Smollett Fakes His Hate Crime, “He’s an Insane Person, He’s a Psychopath”
“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” began Smollett attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson. “He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
The lawyers went on to express disbelief at the notion that Smollett could have be so betrayed by the brothers, with whom he worked on “Empire.”
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “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.”
Smollett, 36, emotionally shared his account of the incident Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He said that two men jumped him outside his Chicago apartment in the early hours of Jan. 29. They pegged him as a gay and black actor from Fox’s “Empire” TV series, he said, and used racial and homophobic slurs against him – at one point shouting “This is ‘MAGA’ country!” After the attack, he noticed a rope around his neck and bleach stains on his clothes, he said.
WATCH: Smollet’s Racial Claim On GMA Looks To Be Wrong
In the interview, Smollett claimed to be persecuted not just by his attackers, but by American culture more broadly. He said he was “pissed off” about both experiences and blamed Donald Trump for his plight, even though, as host Robin Roberts pointed out, the president had condemned the attack.
“I come really really hard against 45. I come really really hard against his administration. I don’t hold my tongue. I can only go off of their words,” he said, referring to the “MAGA” slogan and slurs he said his attackers shouted.
As doubts about Smollett’s version of events have grown, conservatives have ruthlessly mocked Smollett and those who credulously and hysterically amplified his claims, including leading Democrats and the media. Meanwhile, Smollett’s supporters have begun to back away, some quietly and others with outrage. Few have felt the need to account for their own responsibility for the moral panic.