White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Friday that the Biden administration "respects" the verdict reached in the Jussie Smollet trial, where the actor was found guilty on five out of six felonies for lying to police about a fake hate crime he orchestrated in 2019.
Smollett faces up to 15 years in prison for hiring two Nigerian brothers to attack him, then lying to police that two white Trump supporters poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck while making homophobic slurs and telling him that "this is MAGA country."
Asked at the briefing if there are lessons to be learned about rushing to judgment, noting previous comments from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in which they denounced hate after Smollett's claim of a hate crime, Psaki pointed out that former President Donald Trump also condemned the alleged assault back in 2019.
Psaki said there are "lessons learned perhaps for everybody who commented at the time," specifically highlighting comments from former President Donald Trump, saying, "I wish April Ryan was here because I think she asked him that question… where he said I can tell you that it’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse."
Biden, Harris and Trump all came out against the alleged hate crime and denounced bigotry following initial reports that such a crime took place.
What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie. https://t.co/o8ilPu68CM— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 30, 2019
.@JussieSmollett is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know. I’m praying for his quick recovery.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 29, 2019
This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate.
Trump said in the Oval Office, "That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn’t get worse," before later blasting Smollett for claiming he was attacked by individuals who touted their support for Trump's mantra: Make America Great Again.
“You have the case of this wise-guy, Jussie Smollett, who beat up himself,” Trump said in a speech to police chiefs in 2019. "And he said MAGA country did it. MAGA country. Okay? He said MAGA, it’s a hate crime. That’s a hate crime. And it’s a scam. It’s a real big scam, just like the impeachment of your president is a scam."
But Psaki also said Friday that the administration "respects" the jury's decision and that hate crimes hoaxes are "shameful" and "need to be punished."
"I would say that we respect the jury’s decision. 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 and make it harder for real victims to come forward and be believed," Psaki said.
"If you look back at the time, it’s also true and important to note that accusations of hate crime should be taken seriously and they need to be fully investigated… But certainly knowing what we know now it’s important to also know the danger of lying to police and lying about hate crimes and the fact that diverts important resources," she continued.