Psaki Dodges Question on ‘Lessons Learned’ by Biden, Harris

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 9, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday sidestepped a question about whether there are any “lessons learned” on rushing to judgement when a crime is alleged in the wake of Jussie Smollett’s guilty verdict and attempted to shift the focus toward President Trump.

A jury found the disgraced former Empire actor guilty on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct on Thursday after he staged a hoax hate crime against himself and then falsely reported it to police nearly three years ago.

During a press briefing, Jacqui Heinrich noted that President Biden and Vice President Harris had both expressed support for Smollett when the alleged incident was first reported back in 2019.

At the time, Biden tweeted, “What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country,” adding, “We are with you, Jussie.”

Harris called it an “attempted modern day lynching.”

Heinrich asked if there were “lessons learned on rushing to judgement when a crime is alleged.”

“I think there are lessons learned perhaps for everybody who commented at the time, including former President Trump,” Psaki replied.

The White House press secretary noted that the then-president said of the incident at the time, “I can tell you that it’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.”

“I would say that we respect the jury’s decision,” Psaki added. “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. They make it harder for real victims to come forward and be believed.”

She added that “everybody was looking at it at the time” as being important to take accusations of hate crime seriously and to fully investigate such accusations.

“But certainly knowing what we know now, it’s important to also note the danger of lying to police and lying about hate crimes and the fact that it diverts important resources,” she said.

The jury on Thursday found Smollett guilty of making a false report to Chicago police in January 2019, when he claimed he had been attacked by two men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck. He told police the assault occurred in the middle of a frigid Chicago night while he was out picking up a Subway sandwich.

Police investigated the alleged incident, which Smollett claimed happened in the upscale neighborhood of Streeterville, but ultimately shifted their focus to probing whether Smollett paid brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo to stage an attack after first investigating the brothers as persons of interest. The 39-year-old actor allegedly orchestrated the fake hate crime to “promote his career” and paid the two men $3,500 to help him, former Chicago police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said.

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