CNN's Don Lemon Was Advising Jussie Smollett, Actor Tells Jury

Network days before fired Chris Cuomo for helping brother navigate sex assault accusations

CNN moderator Don Lemon speaks to the crowd attending the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019, in Detroit, Mich. / Getty Images
December 7, 2021

CNN anchor Don Lemon warned disgraced actor Jussie Smollett in 2019 that Chicago police did not believe he was the victim of a hate crime, the actor revealed in court Monday.

The former Empire actor told the court that, according to Lemon, the Chicago police did not believe Smollett's story. Lemon admitted in 2019 he had contacted Smollett "every day" following the attack but said nothing about his knowledge of the police investigation. On Monday night, the anchor discussed the trial on his show, Don Lemon Tonight. He did not respond to Smollett's testimony that he tipped the actor off about the investigation.

The news comes just days after CNN fired star anchor Chris Cuomo for using his position to help his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.), combat allegations of sexual harassment. The network had suspended Cuomo after a New York attorney general report revealed the anchor worked with aides to unmask the governor's accusers and had probed other journalists about whether they were writing stories about the governor. Cuomo is reportedly preparing to sue the network to recoup financial losses from his now-terminated contract, which was worth $6 million annually.

Smollett, who is black and gay, told police in 2019 he was attacked by two white men wearing "Make America Great Again" hats, who were shouting racist and homophobic slurs at him. He said the men beat him, drenched him in bleach, and left him on the ground with a noose around his neck.

Prominent Democrats, including many running as presidential candidates at the time, embraced the veracity of Smollett's story. Then-senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris called the alleged attack an "attempted modern-day lynching." And Joe Biden, who was also running for president at the time, denounced the alleged attack as a work of "hate," "homophobia," and "racism."

But further testimony by a pair of Nigerian brothers undermined the actor's account. Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo told police the actor paid them $3,500 to stage a hate crime against him, outfitting the pair with black ski masks to hide their identity as well as a rope.

Following this, Lemon admitted that Smollett was still "innocent until proven guilty" but had "lost the fight in the court of public opinion" and "squandered the goodwill of very high-profile people."

"He squandered the goodwill of very high-profile people who one day may be running this country like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and people like President Trump," Lemon said. "That's not cool."

Smollett's trial began in November. He faces charges for felony disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.

Published under: CNN , Don Lemon