Chicago police believe that Jussie Smollett paid two former suspects in his ongoing assault case to plan the attack, two police sources told CNN.
The two men, who are reportedly brothers, are cooperating with Chicago officers, CNN’s report stated. According to the outlet’s sources, police have dug up records that show that the brothers purchased the rope found around Smollett’s neck at an Ace Hardware in Chicago. One of the brothers appeared on Fox’s Empire, Chicago police told CNN.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said he didn’t know if Smollett was attending the meeting or the specifics of what was being discussed. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for the actor’s phone and bank records.
Smollett’s lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, didn’t reply to requests for comment Wednesday.
Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, said the men attacked him at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. He said they beat him, made racist and homophobic comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before looping a rope around his neck and fleeing.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement Wednesday saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character isn’t being written off the show. The statement follows reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation into the reported attack.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Chicago Police Department chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi said, “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Fox had no statement or comment when reached by The Hollywood Reporter.
In their own statement, Smollett’s lawyers hit back against this new report, saying that their client “is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with.” The statement continued, “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.”
Smollett’s attorneys go on to say that one of the “purported suspects” is a personal trainer that Smollett worked with to get in shape for a music video. “It is impossible to believe this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity,” the statement says. The statement added that the actor and his attorneys are cooperating with the Chicago Police Department.
This story comes just a day after the two former suspects were released without charges from police custody due to “new evidence.” Chicago PD deputy director of news affairs and communications Tom Ahern added that “detectives have additional investigative work to complete.” On Saturday, Guglielmi told multiple press outlets that his department had contacted Smollett’s attorneys and requested to speak with the actor once more.
Reports that the Chicago police had been investigating the possibility that the attack was staged began to circulate as early as Thursday, but the police denied those stories, saying their allegations were “unconfirmed by case detectives.”
Fox and Empire writers also came to Smollett’s defense, clapping back against reports that the actor may have staged the attack because his character was being written off the show. 20th Century Fox released a statement saying, “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
The official Twitter account for the Empire writers room, meanwhile, added, “The writers of Empire have never planned or even discussed writing @JussieSmollett off of the show.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.