Chicago police said today that they had arrested two "potential suspects" in the alleged assault against Empire actor Jussie Smollett.
In a statement, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that "detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime."
"We are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues," Guglielmi added.
Police have not identified the two men, who have not been charged.
Amid recent news reports that Smollett had staged his own attack in the city last month, Guglielmi reiterated in the statement that the actor "is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect."
Chicago police have said they're investigating the alleged assault against Smollett, who is black and openly gay, as a possible hate crime. Smollett told police he was attacked around 2am on January 29 by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance, which he believes to be bleach, on him. According to Smollett, at least one assailant told him "this is MAGA country" during the attack.
The Associated Press reported that the two men, previously seen in a surveillance image released last month, were identified by police as Nigerian brothers who were picked up at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday. According to the AP, the police learned that at least one of the men worked on "Empire."
The police have not confirmed to The Washington Post whether the men have a direct connection with Smollett.
Two reports published Thursday evening (local time) questioned the veracity of Smollett's allegations.CBS Chicago - citing an unnamed "source with intimate knowledge of the investigation" - reported that investigators believe Smollett and two "non-cooperating witnesses" had staged the attack. ABC7, meanwhile, published a report citing "multiple sources" who told the ABC affiliate that police were investigating whether the actor and the "two persons of interest" had "staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off 'Empire.' "
But in a tweet Thursday night, Guglielmi said the hoax reports were "unconfirmed by case detectives." He noted that police superintendent Eddie Johnson, who told ABC7 earlier this month that Smollett "had been cooperative" in the investigation, had followed up with them "to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed [Chicago Police Department] sources are uninformed and inaccurate."
Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Entertainment also responded to the reports in a strongly worded statement: "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off EMPIRE is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him."
Several of Smollett's Empire colleagues, including co-creator Danny Strong, also denied the show had considered writing off the actor's character, Jamal Lyon, an openly gay R&B artist.
The hoax reports surfaced on the same day Good Morning America aired an interview with Smollett, who talked in detail for the first time about the alleged attack. Smollett appeared emotional as he spoke to ABC's Robin Roberts. He said he was angry about the attack and critics doubting his account.
"At first, it was like, 'Listen, if I tell the truth, then that's it, because it's the truth,' " Smollett said. "Then it became a thing of, like, 'Oh, how can you doubt that, like how do you not believe that? It's the truth.' And then it became a thing of, like, 'Oh, it's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth.' "
The actor said he believed some doubted his story because his attackers referenced President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.
"It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot more," he said. "And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now."
Smollett also said some media reports about his alleged assault were inaccurate. He said, for example, he never told police his attackers were wearing MAGA hats. "I didn't need to add anything like that," he said. "I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae."
He explained some of the more scrutinised details of the case, including why he didn't change his clothes or remove the rope from his neck after the attack ("I wanted [the police] to see what this was," he told Roberts.) Smollett also explained his initial hesitation, referenced in the police report, to go to police.
"There's a level of pride there. We live in a society where, as a gay man, you are considered somehow to be weak," he said. "And I'm not weak. We, as a people, are not weak."
Smollett has established himself as an activist, working alongside organizations dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness, civil rights and LGBTQ advocacy - a background he referenced while addressing the scepticism surrounding his claims.
"I'm an advocate. I respect too much the people - who I am now one of those people - who have been attacked in any way," he told Roberts. "You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this."