Robin Roberts Said Jussie Smollett Interview Was a ‘No Win,’ Hesitated to Do It

Robin Roberts Said Jussie Smollett Interview Was a ‘No Win,’ Hesitated to Do It
"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leaves Cook County jail following his release, on Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photo)

ABC reporter Robin Roberts said that the interview she conducted with “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett regarding an alleged attack against him was a “no win.”

Roberts admitted on March 4 that she initially resisted doing the interview because Smollett’s story—that he was assaulted by two white men in downtown Chicago at 2 a.m. in freezing temperatures and that he held onto his Subway sandwich—didn’t seem to be real.

Smollett also claimed that one of the alleged attackers shouted “This is MAGA country,” in an apparent reference to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan of President Donald Trump and his supporters.

“I’ll be completely honest, I was like I don’t know if I want to do the interview or not,” Roberts told the crowd at an event in New York City on Monday, reported the New York Post.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to sit down with him if he’s going to lawyer up.’ And then I was told, ‘He wants to speak with you,’ [because] he was outraged by people making assumptions about whether it had happened or not.”

robin roberts
Robin Roberts at CoachArt’s 9th Annual Gala Of Champions at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Oct. 17, 2013. (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

Roberts, 58, said she was promised she could challenge Smollett, 36, on the “red flags” in his story. She finally relented.

“They said, ‘He wants to say things that he has not said’ and I’m like, ‘As a journalist, as a newsperson, this is newsworthy, he’s going to go on record for the first time, yes I’ll do the interview,” she said.

The subsequent interview was slammed by many as soft, with Roberts seemingly attempting to cast Smollett in a favorable light. It didn’t help that two days after the interview, when it aired, Chicago police arrested two Nigerian-American brothers who detectives said later revealed that Smollett orchestrated the attack, making it a hate crime hoax.

Roberts said she was cognizant of identity politics—with both her and the actor being black and gay—and knew she would be criticized by people who thought she wasn’t hard enough on Smollett while also facing questions from those supporting the actor.

NTD Photo
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson during a press conference at police headquarters, in Chicago, on Feb. 21, 2019, after actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in on charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

“It was a no-win situation for me,” she said. At the time, since Smollett was still considered a victim, she framed her questions to acknowledge that context.

“It was one of the most challenging interviews I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

After the brothers were arrested, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said during a “Good Morning America” segment that comments Smollett made during the interview with Roberts could be used against him if the story does indeed turn out to be false.

Among them was Smollett’s confidence that the two people seen in surveillance footage walking near the scene of the alleged attack about 30 minutes before it reportedly took place were the same people that attacked him.

NTD Photo
This image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Jan. 29, 2019. The pair was later identified as Abel and Ola Osundairo. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)

“In that interview, [Smollett] specifically says, ‘Yeah, those two guys on the surveillance footage, those are the guys that attacked me,’ so now he’s sort of boxed in,” Abrams said.

Police identified the two people as the brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, supporting the case that they were the attackers. When they informed police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to carry out the alleged hoax, officials began looking at Smollett as a suspect.

The actor was eventually arrested on Feb. 21 for filing a false police report.

In a statement in March, the brothers said they regretted helping Smollett perpetrate the alleged attack.

Abel Osundairo, left, and his brother Ola Osundairo
Abel Osundairo (L), and his brother Ola Osundairo, in a file photo. The brothers were arrested in connection with the alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett but were released after reportedly telling detectives Smollett paid them to stage the attack. (Team Abel/Instagram)

“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,” said Gloria Schmidt, the brothers’ attorney, in a statement obtained by CBS Chicago.

Previously, the Osundairos, who met Smollett while acting on “Empire” and one of whom became the actor’s personal trainer, said in a statement that they’re not racist.

“We are not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens,” they said on Feb. 18.

“In due course, all the facts will reveal themselves, and at the end of the day, my clients are honest and credible,” added the brothers’ attorney, Schmidt.

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