Donald Trump has referenced the case of Jussie Smollett in order to undermine public faith in his impeachment inquiry.
The president — in a Monday speech at a conference for the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago — called the gay actor's allegations of a hate-fueled attack "a scam. A real big scam. Just like the impeachment of your president is a scam," reports Deadline.
In January, Smollett claimed he was assaulted by two men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs and even placed a noose around his neck. "This is MAGA country," the pair screamed, as recounted by Smollett to Chicago police. "MAGA" is a reference to Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," as well as his supporters.
In a stunning turn, the Chicago police later accused Smollett of filing false police reports and orchestrating a fake hate crime. Several felony charges were filed against the actor, then dropped several weeks later. Smollett maintained his innocence throughout the events.
Trump initially offered sympathetic remarks about Smollett after news of the alleged attack broke. “I can tell you that it’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” Trump said at a January press conference.
However, after the actor was arrested in February, the president took to Twitter to slam him. “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?" Trump exclaimed in the post.
At the Monday conference, Trump again excoriated Smollett's claim that he was attacked by Trump supporters. "He said MAGA country did it. MAGA country. That’s a hate crime,” the president said.
“Smollett is still trying to get away with it. He would have been better off if he paid his $100,000 bill," said Trump. Chicago police are suing Smollett in an attempt to recover $130,000 in overtime fees incurred during the investigation into the alleged hate crime.
Congress opened an impeachment inquiry last month after a whistleblower alleged that the president tried to withhold federal aid from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on the son of a potential political rival, Vice President Joe Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.