Harris Freezes, Laughs Awkwardly When Asked About Calling Smollett Incident a 'Modern-Day Lynching'

(Updated) 'I think the facts are still unfolding'

February 18, 2019

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) froze and awkwardly looked around when pressed Monday on her tweet that the alleged attack on Jussie Smollett was a "modern-day lynching," before saying she needed to see all the facts.

Smollet, a gay, black actor, claimed he was the victim of a hate crime in January, saying two men beat him up in a Chicago street, poured bleach on him and placed a rope around his neck. He also said they yelled, "This is MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. The story has taken a turn, with police now reportedly investigating whether Smollett orchestrated the attack himself by paying two Nigerian brothers to do it.

Democratic politicians were quick to believe Smollett's account at the time and tweet out their condemnations, including Harris and other 2020 presidential candidates. She praised the actor as "one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know" and said "this was an attempted modern day lynching."

She seemed unfamiliar with it on Monday when asked about it in New Hampshire.

"Which tweet? What tweet?" Harris asked a reporter after one brought up the recent developments.

"About saying that it is a modern day lynching," the reporter said. Harris looked to her left for an unknown reason and laughed before facing the reporter again, who said, "Jussie Smollet."

"Um, uh, OK. So I will say this about that case," Harris said. "I think the facts are still unfolding, and I'm very concerned about obviously the initial allegation that he made about what might have happened.

"And it’s something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation," Harris added. "And I think that once the investigation has concluded then we can all comment, but I’m not going to comment until I know the outcome of the investigation."

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel linked to a clip of the video and criticized her for using "inflammatory rhetoric" to tie what she called a hoax to Trump supporters.

"Now that she has the facts, why can't she even remember her divisive language? Why is she giggling about it?" she wrote.

In an interview posted on Monday, WMUR's Adam Sexton asked Harris if she was "angry" that Smollett may have fabricated his story.

"I think the facts are still rolling themselves out, so I don't actually know what happened," Harris said, before talking of her effort to lead on a bill that was passed in the Senate making lynching a federal crime.

Harris's sudden concern with waiting for all the facts mirrored that of fellow 2020 contender Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.). Booker, who tweeted the incident was an "attempted modern-day lynching" last month, said Sunday in New Hampshire he would withhold comment until more information arose.

"I’m gonna withhold until all the information actually comes out from on-the-record sources," Booker said. "We know in America that bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise in a serious way, and we actually even know in this country that since 9/11, the majority of the terrorist attacks on our soil have been right-wing terrorist attacks—the majority of them white supremacist attacks."

UPDATE: 8:33 P.M.: This article was updated with the RNC chair's tweet.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 1:25 P.M.: This article was updated with more comments from Harris, courtesy of Fox News.