White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday was pressed on President Biden and Vice President Harris’ initial support for actor Jussie Smollett’s hate crime claims, but noted that Biden and Harris weren’t alone in initially believing Smollett.
Smollett claimed in January 2019 that he was savagely attacked near his Chicago apartment while leaving to pick up food. Smollett was found guilty on five of six charges relating to felony disorderly conduct on Friday. Smollett was determined to have repeatedly lied to police and fabricated the incident for publicity.
“I would say that we respect the jury’s decision,” Psaki told reporters Friday at a White House press conference. “Lying to the police, particularly about something as heinous as a hate crime, is shameful.”
Psaki went on to state that the White House supports following through on legal actions prepared against Smollett by the city of Chicago.
Smollett previously claimed that two men assaulted him in January 2019. The actor said the assailants hurled racial slurs and homophobic insults at him, pouring bleach on his clothes and putting a noose around his neck. Smollett also claimed the men had told him, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to former President Trump.
Following the alleged attack, politicians nationwide made statements on the incident, believing the actor’s story on its face.
Biden weighed in quickly, saying that the American public must “stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor.”
Vice President Kamala Harris previously called the hate crime claim a “modern day lynching,” and described Smollett as “one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know.”
When asked, Psaki deflected from the president and vice president’s statements, instead pointing out that Trump also had commented sympathetically in the early days of the story’s media coverage.
“There are lessons learned, perhaps, for everyone who commented at the time,” Psaki told reporters Friday. “Including former President Trump.”
“That, I can tell you, is horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” Trump had told the press pool when asked about the incident not long after the report.
After the verdict was read, defense attorney Nenye Uche told reporters Smollett was disappointed and that he is “100% innocent.” He said Smollett’s team is confident “he’s going to be cleared of all, all accusations on all charges.”
“The verdict is inconsistent,” he said during a press conference following the verdicts. “You can’t say Jussie is lying and say Jussie is not lying for the same exact incident.”
Lauryn Overhultz contributed to this reporting.