An Illinois judge appointed a special prosecutor Friday to investigate the case surrounding actor Jussie Smollett, accused of staging a racist and anti-gay attack on himself in Chicago.
Cook County Judge Michael Toomin tapped former federal prosecutor Dan Webb to serve as special prosecutor in a hearing Friday after ruling in June, based on a petition from a retired judge, that one was necessary in the case.
Webb is the former U.S. attorney who led the "Operation Greylord" investigations into judicial corruption in Cook County, and is currently the co-executive chairman of Winston & Strawn LLP, according to his bio on the law firm's website.
Webb said at a news conference after the hearing that he believed Toomin had assigned him to complete three main tasks.
"First, to investigate if any persons or offices involved in the Smollett case engaged in any wrongdoing," Webb said.
"Number two, determine if reasonable grounds do exist to further prosecute Mr. Smollett," he continued. "And number three, to submit a written report to the court of our findings and conclusions at the end of the special prosecutor's investigation."
Webb said one of the first things he believed he and his team would do in the investigation would be to file a motion before Toomin requesting the appointment of a special grand jury.
He also said he didn't want to "reinvent the wheel," and would thus quickly reach out to the four government agencies who have investigated the situation: the Cook County state's attorney's office, the Chicago Police Department, the inspector general of Cook County and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Webb added that he would also reach out to Smollett's legal team early on, as well as set up interviews with key witnesses in the case.
Webb noted that he and Winston and Strawn would complete the investigation pro bono, without charging the county (and subsequently, taxpayers) any legal fees beyond out-of-pocket expenses.
This marks Webb's sixth appointment as a special prosecutor since he left the U.S. attorney's office in 1985, he said. He was the special prosecutor appointed in the 2004 death of David Koschman, who died after former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's nephew Richard Vanecko punched him and he hit his head on the pavement.
"I don't know where this case is going," Webb said in discussing a potential timeline for the investigation. "I'm going to take it one step at a time. I gotta master the facts. I gotta learn the legal issues and I gotta be fair to everybody. But I can tell you right now our strategy and our plan is to expedite it and move forward very quickly."
The office of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx charged Smollett in February with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for purportedly orchestrating the incident the previous month. A month later, prosecutors dropped all charges with little explanation.
"While the court previously concluded that our office had no conflict of interest in this case, public trust is paramount to our work," the Cook County state's attorney's office said in a statement following Webb's appointment. "We pledge our full cooperation to the special prosecutor appointed today to review this matter. "
"We are proud of the dedicated women and men of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office who work hard every day on behalf of victims and communities affected by crime," the statement continued. "As we continue our focus on efforts to increase public safety and reduce violence, we remain committed to justice, transparency, and fairness for those we serve."
Among the options available to Webb would be to restore charges against Smollett, who continues to maintain the January incident wasn't staged.
You can read Toomin's full ruling below: