Two Nigerian brothers told Chicago police investigators that they were paid by "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett to stage an attack on him, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.
The person, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, said police are attempting to interview Smollett again, so they can question him about the brothers' account.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said he was attacked while walking home through Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood late last month. He told police masked men tied a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and yelled homophobic slurs and “MAGA country!”
Police also found records in the Chicago home of one of the men that showed they purchased rope from a hardware store that was used in the alleged attack, the source told USA TODAY.
"We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” the Chicago Police Department said in a statement. “We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview."
Police had questioned the two brothers earlier this week after taking them into custody at O'Hare International Airport upon returning from international travel. They initially classified the brothers as suspects in the Jan. 29 attack on Smollett.
Late Friday, the men were released from custody without charges. Anthony Guglielmi, Chicago police's chief spokesman, cited "new evidence” as the reason for the men's release.
An attorney for Smollett did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this week, Chicago’s ABC affiliate reported that investigators believed that Smollett staged the attack, because he was being written off the show.
FOX Entertainment and 20th Century FOX Television, which produces the Chicago-based family drama, pushed back against the notion that Smollett was being written off the show.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of 'Empire' is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” the statement said.
Since launching the investigation, police consistently described Smollett as a victim of an attack.
Asked by USA TODAY Saturday if investigators still believe Smollett was a victim of an attack, Guglielmi stopped short of categorizing how investigators currently view the actor.
"We have some new information that we would like to corroborate," he said.
Smollett said in an interview Thursday with ABC's "Good Morning America" that those doubting him "don't even want to see this is the truth."
"It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would’ve supported me a lot more, and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now,” he said.