Chief prosecutor did not officially recuse herself from Jussie Smollett case, her office says

The top prosecutor in Chicago did not formally recused herself from the Jussie Smollett investigation, her office said Thursday.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx only separated herself from decision-making in the “Empire” star’s case out of “an abundance of caution,” and not based on any conflict of interest, her office said Thursday.

“Although we used the term ‘recuse’ as it relates to State’s Attorney Foxx’s involvement in this matter, it was a colloquial use of the term rather than in its legal sense,” the office said in a statement.

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman from her office, announced last month that Foxx had been removed from the case to address potential concerns of impartiality “based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.”

Foxx told CNN affiliate WLS on Wednesday that she did so when it was clear Smollett’s role in the case was changing from victim to suspect. She also noted that she consulted her department’s chief ethics officer.

Smollett was charged about a week later with 16 counts of filing a false police report, a Class 4 felony. Foxx said she was never actively involved in the case because the crime was the lowest level of felony, but she did get updates until an email from the chief ethics officer went out to her staff, instructing them not to include her in discussions about the investigation.

Text messages obtained by CNN through an open records request show Smollett family friend Tina Tchen — a former chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama and a lawyer — reached out to Foxx on February 1. Tchen wrote the family had “concerns about the investigation.”

Foxx emailed Tchen saying in part, “Spoke to Superintendent (Eddie) Johnson. I convinced him to (r)each out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation. He is reaching out now and will get back to me shortly.”

Later another person, identified by Foxx’s office as a family friend, asked the prosecutor whether they could talk on the phone. She says Tchen gave her Foxx’s number.

Hours later, Foxx texts the unidentified family friend that she “spoke to the (police) superintendent earlier, he made the ask. Trying to figure out the logistics.”

The person responds: “Omg this would be a huge victory.”

Foxx and the family friend exchanged text messages until February 13, Simonton, the State Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, said earlier this month.

Foxx told WLS that when she spoke to Smollett’s family members, he was still thought to be the victim of a possible hate crime, and it is not unusual for her speak to the families of victims. She thought there was a lot of misinformation in the media, and that if the FBI were to handle the case that would cut down on the number of leaks in the case.