Robin Roberts hesitated on ‘GMA’ interview with actor

Robin Roberts hesitated on 'GMA' interview with actor

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Jussie Smollett went from assault victim to suspect within weeks. Here are the events that led up to the “Empire” actor turning himself in.
USA TODAY

Robin Roberts is revealing just how challenging she found last month’s interview with Jussie Smollett. 

The “Good Morning America” anchor spoke candidly about her tearful Feb. 14 interview with the “Empire” actor during a Monday event sponsored by The Cut, according to The Hollywood Reporter and Page Six.

In the emotional interview, Smollett, 36, recounted his alleged Jan. 29 attack, which police now believe was a hoax intended to promote his career.

Roberts reportedly said she was initially hesitant about talking with Smollett.  “I’ll be completely honest: I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do the interview or not,'” Roberts reportedly recalled.

THR quoted Roberts as saying her commitment to the interview hinged on whether Smollett would reveal new information. “If there wasn’t going to be anything new, I didn’t really want to do it,” she shared. 

In negotiations with Smollett’s team, it was agreed that she could question him about details that were seen by some as “red flags” and he agreed to provide new details.

Roberts said she based her participation on the interview’s news value, eventually deciding, “He’s going on the record for the first time. Yes, I’ll do the interview.”

She also took optics into account, realizing that she was in a “no-win situation” as a gay, black woman interviewing a gay, black man.

Roberts worried that if she were “too hard” on Smollett, who was presenting himself as the victim of a hate crime, people in the LGBTQ community might suspect she didn’t believe him.

On the other hand, she said, “If I’m too light on him, then it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass.’ “

She reportedly added, “I pride myself on being fair. I know how much work went into being balanced … to challenge him on certain things.” 

Had she been aware of details uncovered by the police – like brothers Abimbola “Abel”  Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo claiming they were paid to stage the attack, Roberts said she would have asked about them.

After Smollett was arrested last month, Roberts reacted to the news on her show.

“It’s a setback for race relations, homophobia, MAGA supporters – the fingers were pointed at them,” she said at the time. “I cannot think of another case where there’s this anger on so many sides, and you can understand why there would be.”

Jussie Smollett investigation timeline: How actor went from assault victim to suspect

Jussie Smollett:  Judge OKs star’s travel; police chief says ‘there’s a lot more evidence’

Smollett turned himself in  on Feb. 21 and has since been charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report about the alleged hate crime. Disorderly conduct is a Class 4 felony that carries a potential sentence of one to three years in prison and substantial fines.  

That same day, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters that the actor staged the attack to look like a hate crime in order to “take advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.” 

A few days later on “Good Morning America,” Johnson told Roberts, “There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet that doesn’t support the version that (Smollett) gave us. There’s still a lot of video evidence, physical evidence and testimony that doesn’t support what he said happened.”

A Chicago judge has said Smollett, who has been suspended from “Empire,” can travel out-of-state to meet his lawyers while he’s free on bond.

The Osundairo brothers expressed remorse in a statement obtained by USA TODAY Friday from their attorney, Chicago lawyer Gloria Schmidt. 

“My clients have tremendous regret over their involvement in this situation, and they understand how it has impacted people across the nation, particularly minority communities and especially those who have been victims of hate crimes themselves,” the statement read.

Smollett’s defense team continues to maintain his innocence. 

Contributing: Maria Puente, Jayme Deerwester

Smollett spoofed on ‘SNL’: ‘SNL’ sends up Jussie Smollett  in ‘Shark Tank’ spoof

‘We love the hell outta you’: ‘Empire’ star Terrence Howard stands behind Smollett:

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