Chicago, IL – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett testified on Monday that CNN anchor Don Lemon warned him that Chicago police detectives did not believe his story about being attacked by homophobic racists.
Smollett told police his attackers called him anti-gay and anti-black slurs and told him “This is MAGA country” as they beat him up and put a noose around his neck as he walked home from a Subway restaurant in his Streeterville neighborhood on Jan. 29, 2019.
He is now on trial facing six felony disorderly conduct charges for orchestrating the faux hate attack he claimed had been perpetrated by two white supporters of President Donald Trump.
Smollett took the stand in his own defense on Dec. 6, FOX News reported.
He testified that he never would have called the police because “I am a black man in America and I do not trust police,” according to Megan Crepeau of the Chicago Tribune who reported via Twitter live from the courtroom.
The judge has refused to allow cameras in the courtroom.
Smollett also explained to the jury why he had refused to turn over his cell phone to detectives when he was asked to provide it as part of the investigation.
He testified that “he declined to give his phone to CPD in part because earlier he’d gotten a text from Don Lemon ‘saying he’d gotten a text from CPD saying they don’t believe me,’” the Chicago Tribune reported.
It was unclear what exactly Lemon’s text message that warned Smollett that Chicago police didn’t believe him said.
Smollett also testified that he had contact information for “extremely important” activists, executives, and celebrities on his phone, as well as private photos, that he didn’t want to give law enforcement, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Lemon, who was reporting on the incident for CNN, had repeatedly boasted about his close friendship with the “Empire” star and offered his support shortly after the hate attack hit the news.
When the veracity of Smollett’s claims came into question, Lemon continued reporting on the story and told CNN viewers the case had become “personal” because he had been in constant communication with the actor since he claimed he was attacked, FOX News reported.
Lemon maintained that his friend was “innocent until proven guilty” and said on the air that if Smollett’s story wasn’t true, he lied “to a lot of people, including me. And that’s not cool,” the Daily Mail reported.
“He squandered the good will of very high-profile people who one day may be running this country, like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and people like President Trump,” he added.
The CNN anchor also said Smollett had “lost the fight in the court of public opinion,” according to the Daily Mail.
“He lost because — not his fault. Maybe people were — I don’t know what they were saying to him, maybe because of his representatives,” Lemon said in an attempt to blame someone other than Smollett. “Who knows? But it was handled poorly.”
The testimony that Lemon meddled in a police investigation in Chicago became public just days after CNN fired anchor Chris Cuomo.
Cuomo was accused of breaching journalistic ethics by providing opposition research, and helping strategize and write statements for his brother, now-former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after he was accused of sexually harassing multiple women.
Lemon interviewed CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez on “the very latest from” the Smollett trial on Monday night but never touched on the testimony that had involved his own name, the New York Post reported.
At 10-to-midnight, @DonLemon and @OmarJimenez finally discuss the Jussie Smollett trial. But neither "journalist" mentioned how Smollett testified under oath that Lemon tipped him off to police skepticism of his hoax claims. The whole segment lasted 5 minutes and 7 seconds. pic.twitter.com/fNpgiY9o3J
— Nicholas Fondacaro (@NickFondacaro) December 7, 2021
Numerous media critics jumped on social media to condemn Lemon’s breach of journalistic integrity.
“More activism by an ‘anchor’ at CNN,” media critic Joe Concha tweeted. “The network needs to now address this publicly as well. These texts from Lemon to Smollett came during an active high-profile investigation. CNN mum thus far.”
CNN has not yet made a statement about Smollett’s testimony.
“Really, @donlemon? Did you do for @JussieSmollett what @ChrisCuomo did for his sexual assaulting brother @andrewcuomo?” New York Times bestselling author Tony Shaffer tweeted.