Special prosecutor in Smollett probe retained despite conflict-of-interest questions

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CHICAGO – A Chicago judge says he's keeping a special prosecutor looking into why the state's attorney's office abruptly dismissed charges against actor Jussie Smollett, despite conflict-of-interest questions.

Judge Michael Toomin's decision came after former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb previously disclosed he co-hosted a 2016 fundraiser for Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. He also donated $1,000 to her campaign that year.

On Friday, Webb stated he did not remember the event or giving Foxx $1,000.

“I don’t know Kim Foxx. I have never met Kim Foxx,” Webb said. “I have never met Kim Foxx. I have never even much as talked to her. I have no biases in favor or against her.”

Webb said he only learned about fundraiser last week. He said one of Kim Foxx’s attorneys called to tell him about it.

As part of the his ruling today, the judge said it is common practice for lawyers in Chicago to make political contributions to each other.

The judge even admitted to making donations to politicians himself.

No one formally asked that Webb be removed as special prosector, but there was some concern the public might not trust the process given the history of the case.

“We talked about what the public’s perceptions are. And you saw how the court ruled and we’re going to be positive and move forward,” said Sheila O’Brien, who appointed the special prosector.

Foxx's office in March dropped charges accusing the former "Empire" actor of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself.

The probe includes looking into whether Foxx's calls with a Smollett relative and an ex-aide of former First Lady Michelle Obama influenced the decision to drop charges. Foxx recused herself from the case but continued to weigh in.

On Friday afternoon, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office released the following statement:

"Public trust is paramount to our work. We raised our concerns and accept the court's ruling. We will continue to fully cooperate with the special prosecutor as he reviews this matter."

WGN asked Webb whether his law firm, Winston and Strawn, ran a conflicts check before he was appointed to be special prosecutor. He did not answer, only saying because he had no recollection of meeting or having contact with Foxx, he had no reason to believe he'd have a conflict of interest.
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