White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Biden administration “respects” a Chicago jury’s Thursday decision to convict actor Jussie Smollett of five felonies for staging a 2019 hate crime hoax — adding that phony hate crimes are “shameful” and “need to be punished.”
Smollett, 39, faces up to 15 years in prison for hiring two Nigerian men to attack him, then lying to cops that two white supporters of then-President Donald Trump doused him in bleach and put a noose around his next while making anti-gay remarks and saying “this is MAGA country.”
Asked at her daily briefing about President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s statements about Smollett’s initial allegation, Psaki pointed out that Trump also condemned the alleged assault before Smollett’s account fell apart.
“I think there are lessons learned perhaps for everybody who commented at the time, including former President Trump. I wish April Ryan was here because I think she asked him that question… where he said I can tell you that it’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” Psaki said.
“I would say that we respect the jury’s decision. Lying to the police particularly about something as heinous as a hate crime is shameful. Instances of that need to be investigated fully. And those found guilty need to be punished. And false accusations divert valuable police resources away from important investigations and make it harder for real victims to come forward and be believed,” she continued.
“If you look back at the time, it’s also true and important to note that accusations of hate crime should be taken seriously and they need to be fully investigated… But certainly knowing what we know now it’s important to also know the danger of lying to police and lying about hate crimes and the fact that diverts important resources.”
Psaki generally refrains from commenting on pending criminal cases. It’s unclear if Smollett’s defense team will seize upon her recommendation that the legal system punish hoaxers.
When he first claimed he was the victim of a hate crime, the “Empire” actor attracted sympathy from across the political spectrum.
Biden tweeted in January 2019, “What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie.”
Harris wrote, “@JussieSmollett is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know. I’m praying for his quick recovery. This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate.”
But Trump also slammed what seemed to be a hate crime after initial reports.
“That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
Trump later ripped Smollett for falsely claiming he was attacked by Trump supporters who noted their support for Trump’s MAGA — or Make America Great Again — mantra.
“You have the case of this wise-guy, Jussie Smollett, who beat up himself,” Trump said in a 2019 speech to police chiefs. “And he said MAGA country did it. MAGA country. Okay? He said MAGA, it’s a hate crime. That’s a hate crime. And it’s a scam. It’s a real big scam, just like the impeachment of your president is a scam.”