Politics & Policy

SPLC Taps Lawyer Who Interfered in Smollett Case to Investigate Workplace-Harassment Allegations

Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., in 2014. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has hired Tina Tchen, a former Obama staffer who recently tried to intervene in the Jussie Smollett hate-crime-hoax case on the actor’s behalf, to conduct a review of workplace-harassment allegations in the wake of co-founder Morris Dees’s firing.

Last Thursday, the SPLC announced Dees’s dismissal for unspecified violations of company policy and said that Tchen, who served as chief of staff to Michelle Obama and now runs a firm focused on “workplace cultural compliance,” would conduct a “comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices.”

That announcement came one day after the Chicago Sun Times obtained communications between Tchen and Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx in which Tchen asked Foxx to persuade Chicago Police Department superintendent Eddie Johnson to turn the investigation of Smollett’s case over to the FBI.

Tchen reportedly made the request, which Johnson refused to comply with, at the behest of one of Smollett’s relatives.

In an email sent just two days after Smollett falsely claimed he was jumped by a pair of Trump-supporting bigots, Foxx reached out to Tchen to let her know that she had contacted Johnson, as the Obama alumnus had previously requested.

“Spoke to Superintendent Johnson. I convinced him to reach out to FBI to ask that they take over the investigation,” Foxx wrote.

“OMG this would be a huge victory,” Tchen wrote in response to a text message from Foxx containing the same information as was included in the email.

“I make no guarantees,” Foxx responded, “but I’m trying.”

Fraternal Order of Police president Kevin Graham sent a letter to the Department of Justice on Friday calling for an investigation into Tchen’s interference in the Smollett case and Foxx’s complicity in same.

“Private attorneys are not allowed to interfere with ongoing police investigations, particularly at the request of private individuals associated with subjects being investigated by the police,” Graham wrote in a letter sent Friday to John R. Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, obtained by CWBChicago.

Smollett pled not guilty last week to 16 counts of filing a false police report. He is out on $100,000 bail.

The exact cause of Dees’s firing remains unclear but it is likely related to some form of harassment given the statement issued by the SPLC, which refers to a violation of the group’s values. In the wake of Dees’s firing, a former staffer seemed to confirm that the organization is in need of reform, describing the culture in a New Yorker exposé as rife with sexual harassment, as well as gender-based and racial discrimination.

The former staffer, Bob Moser, also accuses Dees and other senior staffers of abandoning the organization’s roots in favor of running “a highly profitable scam.” The group, which got its start bankrupting Ku Klux Klan chapters, has in recent years taken to labeling ordinary conservative groups “hate groups” and tarring moderate reformers as bigots.

The SPLC did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

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