CNN faces a fresh scandal days after firing Chris Cuomo after Empire star Jussie Smollett claimed host Don Lemon had texted him details of a police investigation into a hate crime Smollett now stands accused of faking.
Don Lemon allegedly texted the former TV star shortly after he claims he was attacked in Chicago in February 2019, to say that Chicago’s Police Department wasn’t taking his allegations seriously.
Smollett made the claim while giving evidence on Monday.
Lemon and CNN have yet to comment on the allegation.
In testimony that was presented and then stricken from the record, Smollett said that he started to understand his story wasn’t believed when CNN anchor Don Lemon (pictured right) texted him to say that the Chicago police didn’t believe him
Lemon’s alleged meddling in the aftermath of Smollett’s hate crime, which is now under investigating due to incongruences in his testimony, comes just days after the media giant fired Chris Cuomo over his involvement in defending his disgraced brother from sexual assault allegations.
Testifying in court on Monday, Smollet, 39, claimed he had been in contact with CNN’s Don Lemon during the early stages of the CPD investigation.
In a remark that was presented and then struck from the record, he said things began to seem off when he received a text message from Lemon claiming the Chicago police had reached out to him to say they didn’t believe Smollett.
Lemon’s journalistic ethics are now being questioned amid reignited reports in November from a man claiming he was sexually assaulted by Lemon three years ago in a Hamptons bar.
Smollett at least twice strenuously denied plotting a hoax during his time on the stand, and said he has lost his livelihood due to bad publicity. He faces six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report.
DailyMail.com has reached out to CNN for comment.
Actor Jussie Smollett arrives Monday with his mother Janet at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for day five of his trial in Chicago. Smollett described Janet as his ‘favorite human in the world’
Smollett at least twice strenuously denied plotting a hoax during his time on the stand, and said he has lost his livelihood due to bad publicity. He faces six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report
When doubts started to be raised about Smollett’s publicly denounced hate attack in 2019, Lemon told his audience it was ‘personal’ since he and Smollett had become close.
‘He even lied to a lot of people… including me. And that’s not cool,’ he told viewers. ‘He squandered the good will of very high-profile people who one day may be running this country like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and people like President Trump.’
Lemon went on to say that Smollett had ‘lost the fight in the court of public opinion.’
‘He lost because — not his fault. Maybe people were — I don’t know what they were saying to him, maybe because of his representatives. Who knows? But it was handled poorly,’ Lemon said in 2019.
The news pundit then complimented GMA host Robin Roberts, for doing a ‘terrific job’ with her interview with Smollett.
On Monday, Smollett said he had regrets about the press coverage that he participated in after the attack, including the GMA interview, but said he felt pressure to do it.
‘I worked for a very powerful network, Fox. They told me to do the interview.’
Smollett added that ‘not one iota of information has changed’ about how he describes the attack. As for the attention, he says, ‘I hate it.’
Lemon’s alleged role in the aftermath of Smollett’s hate crime, which is now under investigating due to incongruences in his testimony, comes just days after the media giant fired Chris Cuomo over his involvement in defending his disgraced brother from sexual assault allegations
Smollett’s claims that he was informed by Lemon come just a month after a man accusing the CNN anchor of sexual assault went on The Megyn Kelly Show to detail the alleged abuse.
Dustin Hice accused Lemon of putting his hand down his pants, robbing his privates and shoving his fingers into his face while they were in a bar in the Hamptons three years ago,.
‘Anybody that acts like that in public without any fear of what it might do to somebody or the consequences it might have, that’s a pattern,’ he told host Megyn Kelly.
‘He’s protected by the fact that he’s African American, gay man on television and I’m just some nobody,’ he added.
After the interview, Lemon sent a legal notice to Kelly, warning her that she had allowed her viewers to hear a ‘lopsided and inaccurate’ story about the events.
Lemon has said Hice is withdrawing evidence that would prove him innocent.
Jussie Smollett took the stand in his criminal trial Monday in Chicago. Here, he’s seen entering Leighton Criminal Courthouse alongside family and attorney
The prosecution rested Thursday and the defense began calling witnesses, which included testimony from Smollett himself, where he to hooking up at a gay bathhouse with one of the two Nigerian brothers whom he allegedly hired to beat him up
On Monday, Smollett repeatedly denied plotting a hoax during his time on the stand.
Defense attorney Nenye Uche asked him directly: Have you ever planned a hoax?’
Smollett answered: ‘Never in my life.’
He also said his career has nosedived since the incident. Uche asked him: ‘Are you some George Clooney type actor.’ He replied: ‘No, I’ve lost my livelihood.’
Smollett said that he put the noose that had been placed on his neck back on before calling police because his manager told him ‘you can’t be f—–g with evidence’ on cross-examination.
The actor took the stand for three and a half hours of direct examination from attorney Nenye Uche’s team at Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago Monday.
He admitted to hooking up at a gay bathhouse with one of the two brothers involved in attacking him but said ‘there was no hoax’ – as the fired Empire actor testified Monday in his trial for lying to police about being the victim of a hate crime.
He was then questioning for the remainder of the day by special prosecutor Dan Webb on cross-examination.
Smollett did testify on direct that he and Abimbola Osundairo had been to gay bathhouses together where they had done drugs and ‘masturbated together’ in a private room.
The actor’s attorneys have claimed that it was a ‘real’ attack and that Osundairo and his brother, Olabingo, made up the story about a hoax then asked Smollett for $1 million each to not testify against him at trial.
Osundairo admitted that he had gone to the bathhouse with Smollett when he was cross-examined last week on the stand by the defense lawyers – but testified that there was no relationship between the two and was unaware if the bathhouses they’d gone to were frequented by gay people.
Smollett contradicted those claims, saying he and Abimbola got a private room and ‘there was some touching.’ The actor also said there was gay pornography on the bathhouse walls.
He then said that he and Abimbola had been to the same bathhouse together a second time, after leaving a strip club with Abimbola’s brother, Olabinjio.
Attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, center, walks with her clients Abimbola Osundairo, left, and Olabinjo Osundairo. Abimbola denied any sort of romantic relationship with Smollett, which the defendant contradicted on Monday
Smollett showed a photo of his family growing up and spoke about his family background earlier on direct examination. He said he didn’t get along with his father (pictured center) growing up but they made peace before he died in 2015
‘We went alone, we got a private room again,’ Smollett said. ‘We made out a little bit and this time we masturbated together.’
The actor spoke of the night of the attack, saying that he had planned to go to Wallgreens to purchase four eggs on the advise of Abimbola, who had become Smollett’s paid nutritionist, he alleged.
Smollett said that Abimbola called him the night of the attack to talk about Smollett’s training and meal plan He told Jussie he had to eat 4 eggs, so Smollett told Abimbola about going to Walgreens to get eggs.
The actor had just come home from an audition in New York City. He claimed he rolled a blunt but did not smoke it, then put on a sweater and jacket and set out for Walgreens, he testifies. However, the local Walgreens was closed, so he decided to go to a nearby Subway instead.
Upon leaving Subway, Smollett said he heard someone say ‘f—-t Empire n—-r.’ He turned around, furious at what he’d heard.
‘It felt like something out of Looney Tune adventures,’ Smollett said. ‘Someone that felt massive just coming up to me, not enough time to even think.’
He said the attacker hit him just above his left eye. Smollett wants to think he landed a punch in response but is insure, however, he was still sure he threw one.
Smollett claimed he assumed the attacker was white because the assailant had called him the n-word and mentioned being in ‘MAGA country.’
The Empire star then claimed he slipped on some ice and wound up tussling with thetwo attackers on the ground.
He then said he was kicked on his right side before the two attackers got up and ran away. He then got up and began gathering his belongings, including his phone and food.
It was only when he’d got back to his apartment that he noticed the noose on his neck.
Asked why he didn’t recognize the rope was there at that moment, Smollett replied, ‘Because I was getting my ass whupped.’
Smollett was then asked why he didn’t call police. Said there were multiple reasons. ‘One, I am a Black man in America. I do not trust police. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.’
He also mentioned his celebrity, his homosexuality, and that he didn’t want to be known for getting beaten up The actor said he did not want to be portrayed as the ‘f—-t who just got his ass beat.’
Smollett said he was furious when his manager called the police.
Despite his reservations, Smollett says when authorities arrived ‘they were so nice to me.’
On cross-examination, Webb went after Smollett’s reluctance to both speak to and share evidence with the Chicago police.
Webb began by asking Smollett: ‘Did you refuse to provide evidence that you knew would be helpful to the police investigation?’
After some quibbling, Webb asks Smollett how often the actor told Chicago police he’d been the victim of a hate crime. Smollett says, ‘many times, I don’t know.’
Smollett said there were certain things ‘I decided I did not want to give’ based on police questions.
He then added: ‘I told them the truth, that I was the victim of a hate crime.’
Webb asked Smollett if he wanted the cops to believe he was the victim of a hate crime. Smollett said he wanted them to solve a crime that had happened to him.
The special prosecutor then asked Smollett if he refused to give police his phone because it would show his contact with Abimbola Osundairo. Smollett said ‘there was no reason to be concerned about the Osundairo brothers.’
Webb then asked Smollett about refusing to give DNA to Chicago police, when he ended up giving it to the FBI anyway.
He asked: ‘Didn’t you tell police you would cooperate 100 percent?’
Smollett responded: ‘I told them I would cooperate. We didn’t talk percentages.’
Webb then questioned why Smollett took the noose that had been placed on his neck off and then put it back on before calling police. Smollett claimed it’s because the manager told him ‘you can’t be f—–g with evidence.’
Smollett said he’s down about 600,000 social media followers and has failed to gain any major acting roles since the incident.
‘I’ve lost my livelihood.’
Earlier, Smollett also said he felt he was under immense pressure when starring on Empire, claiming creator Lee Daniels told the actor that he was for gay black men what Phylicia Rashad was for black women on The Cosby Show.
The pressure was part of what made him turn to drugs, which Abimbola Osundairo supplied him with, according to Smollett.
Smollett testified to paying $200 to Abimbola for cocaine.
The actor said that Abimbola would often sit and smoke weed with Jussie in his car as a regular ritual. That’s what Smollett claims he and Abimbola were doing the night they allegedly planned the phony attack.
Smollett said that he had a decidedly different relationship with Abimbola’s brother, Olabinjio Osundairo.
Smollett said he didn’t know Olabinjo very well and was ‘creeped out’ by him. He said that his friendship with Abimbola was not something to ‘shine a light on’ in Olabinjio’s presence.
Jussie then spoke about how he hired the two brothers for a nutrition program, as Empire creator Lee Daniels told him he was 30 pounds overweight.
Smollett said Abimbola had repeatedly asked about being his security guard, joking that he acted like a Secret Service agent.
After Jussie received a hate mail letter on the set of Empire, Abimbola’s requests got more intense.
Jussie also claimed he didn’t like the studio’s plan to protect him after the letter, calling it ‘corny.’
‘I like to drive by myself,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be in some stranger’s car, for what reason? I’m a grown man. I don’t need to be driven around like I’m Miss Daisy.’
Smollett’s testimony addressed a couple of pieces of evidence against him, including a cryptic text to Abimbola that he ‘might need your help on the low.’
He claimed that what he was asking for was Abimbola to obtain illegal Nigerian steroids in an attempt to bulk up for his shirtless Empire shoot.
Smollett contradicted the testimony of Abimbola Osundairo (pictured left), saying the two had made out and ‘masturbated together’ at a gay bathhouse in Chicago
Smollett says he ‘had put on a significant amount of weight’ and wanted to get in shape. ‘I had to be shirtless in the music video that we were prepping for.’
Experts thought the actor might decide to take a star turn in the witness box because of the damning testimony presented by the prosecution, which rested its case Thursday.
Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack – one count for each time he gave a report – to three different officers.
The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.
Smollett initially gave background about his life as a child actor, saying that his family wasn’t rich as he grew up.
‘The Olsen twins were child stars. I was not a star,’ Smollett said, referring to himself as a ‘working child actor’ growing up, appearing in films such as the Mighty Ducks franchise.
Smollett began talking about his jobs as a young person, including a cashier, and a birthday clown.
He was asked to identify his family, including his late father, who is white and Jewish. He mentioned not always having gotten along with him but that they made peace before he died in 2015.
He added that his mother Janet was his ‘favorite human in the world.’
Smollett noted that he had begun his stint as Jamal Lyon on Empire making $27,000-$28,000 an episode, but had renegotiated that to over $100,000 per episode by the time of the attack.
He claimed he was happy with his contract at the time of the attack, noting that the studio that produced the show gave Smollett 50 percent of publishing rights to his songs and complete control of the master recordings.
‘They told me that had never been done in the history of the network,’ he said.
As the trial resumed Monday after the judge gave the jury the day off on Friday, his defense lawyers called security guard Anthony Moore to the stand.
Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported he was the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago
Attorneys spent much of Monday debating whether or not to have Smollett take the stand in the case before he eventually answered questions
Moore testified that he told police he shined a flashlight in the face of a person running with ski mask near where Smollett said he was attacked. He told cops the suspect was a white person, yet police kept asking if it could have been a black person.
During the trial that started Nov. 29, what emerged was the story of a television star who cast two brothers as his attackers, gave them dialogue to recite, and paid for the rope he told them to fashion into a noose and loop around his neck.
As strange as that sounds, it is the only narrative that has come to the jury from the siblings, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo.
And some legal experts say the only chance Smollett has of beating charges that he lied to the police is by telling jurors his version of what happened on Jan. 29, 2019.
‘The jurors might be thinking, `Who does this guy think he is, not getting up and telling his story?” said Terry Ekl, a prominent Chicago-area defense attorney not involved in the case.
Ekl and other legal experts said jurors are not supposed to read anything into a defendant’s decision not to testify but that when they return to the deliberation room they often do just that.
As to the importance of a defendant testifying, legal experts said one need look no further than the recent trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after he testified that he fatally shot two men and wounded another because he feared for his own life.
Smollett raised his fist as he entered the courthouse. Smollett maintains that the attack was not a hoax and was an actual, homophobic hate crime
Special prosecutor Dan Webb, the man who has been leading the case against Smollett on behalf of the state of Illinois, arrives at the courthouse
‘They won the case by putting him on,’ said Kathleen Zellner, a Chicago area defense attorney. ‘The jury believed him.’
In Smollett’s case, it may be vital for him to testify because his lawyers ‘haven’t been able to impeach these brothers,’ said Chicago-based defense attorney, Joe Lopez.
Nor have they located a white person that a woman told police she saw carrying a rope in the area earlier that night, leaving the brothers and Smollett as the only three people that the jury can conclude know what happened.
‘I think they just want to hear his story and if they don’t, the only one they’ve got is the prosecutions’ story,’ said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law.
Another reason why Smollett might want to testify: He should be good at it.
‘He’s an actor. He should be testifying,’ Lopez said.
Smollett embraces with mother Janet outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building before he took the stand for the first time in his trial
Jussie and his team inside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago. Experts said that taking the stand would be Smollett’s only chance at salvaging the case
Testifying could pose all sorts of problems for Smollett, starting with his need to explain how the brothers knew they would run into him in the dead of a brutally cold night in an unfamiliar neighborhood as he returned from a sandwich shop. Unless he told them he would be there
‘He has the ability to communicate (and) he thinks he can take the witness stand and play a role,’ said Ekl.
Erickson said that when he teaches trial advocacy, he makes it clear from the outset that jurors vote for people they like. Right now, he said, he’s sure they like the special prosecutor, Dan Webb. ‘Dan Webb is Everyman, he seems like a nice guy, a good next-door neighbor. ‘
In contrast, they don’t know Smollett, and have not heard his voice since he introduced himself during jury selection.
But testifying could pose all sorts of problems for Smollett, starting with his need to explain how the brothers knew they would run into him in the dead of a brutally cold night in an unfamiliar neighborhood as he returned from a sandwich shop. Unless he told them he would be there.
Also, if he’s convicted, Smollett’s words could land him in yet more trouble.
‘You can’t be penalized (by a judge) for not testifying but if he takes the stand and the judge believes he perjured himself, he can add (jail or prison) time,’ said Erickson.
Both Erickson and Ekl think Smollett will end up testifying, even if his attorneys beg him not to.
‘I think you’ve got a guy who is so arrogant and self-centered, he really thinks he can make people believe what he says is true … (and) schmooze a jury to get them to like him,’ Ekl said.
Defense attorney Shay Allen has suggested the brothers, who are Black, were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked the performer – who is gay and Black – and then saw an opportunity to make money.
After a short recess, former Empire executive producer and showrunner Brett Mahoney was called to the stand.