President Trump Calls Apparent Hate Crime on Empire's Jussie Smollett 'Horrible — It Doesn't Get Worse"
President Donald Trump is publicly denouncing the assault of Empire star Jussie Smollett.
Speaking with reporters Thursday at an Oval Office meeting with manufacturing-industry leaders, Trump called the apparent hate crime “horrible.”
“That, I can tell you, is horrible. I’ve seen it, last night,” Trump, 72, said in response to a question from April Ryan, White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. “I think that’s horrible.”
“It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned,” he said before returning to his argument for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
NEW: Pres. Trump on alleged racist and homophobic attack against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett: "It was horrible. I've seen it, last night. I think that's horrible. It doesn't get worse, as far as I'm concerned." https://t.co/vds7CBwc0T pic.twitter.com/aVIa7p0kUN
— ABC News (@ABC) January 31, 2019
Trump’s comments come two days after Smollett told police he was targeted by two black-clad, masked men in Chicago’s Streeterville section near his home on Tuesday. Smollett was treated at Northwestern Hospital and remains in stable condition.
In his second interview with police, Smollett remembered his attackers calling out the abbreviation of Trump‘s slogan “Make America Great Again,” according to a statement from the Chicago police previously obtained by PEOPLE.
Even before the incident, additional security had been hired for the Empire set after Fox Studios’ Chicago offices allegedly received last week a threatening homophobic letter addressed to Smollett, who is gay. TMZ first reported the news.
The FBI is investigating that alleged letter, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told PEOPLE.
RELATED: Kevin Hart Speaks Out After Facing Backlash for Tweeting His Support for Gay Star Jussie Smollett
In photos of the purported letter — which were obtained by GrapeJuice.net and TMZ — the words “you will die black f–” are spelled out in magazine letter cut-outs.
PEOPLE has reached out to the FBI for comment.
On Wednesday, police released photographs of two people they wish to question in relation to the alleged incident. However, the images did not show the individuals’ faces.
“Photos of people of interest who were in area of the alleged assault & battery of Empire cast member,” Guglielmi tweeted on Wednesday evening alongside the photos of the figures, both wearing dark clothing, walking side-by-side. “While video does not capture an encounter, detectives are taking this development seriously & wish to question individuals as more cameras are being reviewed.”
Photos of people of interest who were in area of the alleged assault & battery of Empire cast member. While video does not capture an encounter, detectives are taking this development seriously & wish to question individuals as more cameras are being reviewed pic.twitter.com/xJDDygtocr
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 31, 2019
The latest in the investigation comes after Guglielmi told PEOPLE he was optimistic video evidence will surface that will help them solve the apparent hate crime attack.
Describing the details of the allegations as “heinous,” Guglielmi said police had widened their search of surveillance cameras — both public and private — in the area surrounding the site of the alleged attack.
“The victim goes to Subway just after midnight and on his way back, he was attacked by two men,” Guglielmi stated. “They were masked and wearing black clothing. They called him an Empire … and they used a homophobic slur. They also used the N-word. They proceed to assault him, and they throw a chemical on him that may have been bleach, and put a rope around neck.”
RELATED: Taraji P. Henson Supports Jussie Smollett After Apparent Hate Crime: ‘My Baby Is Resilient’
Guglielmi said the actor returned to his apartment afterward and called his manager, who quickly made his way to Smollett’s home. “The manager goes to the apartment, and they agree to call police. The manager called us at 2:40 a.m.,” Guglielmi added.
(According to multiple reports, both Smollett and his manager have refused to hand over their cell phones to authorities. “The victim and his manager reported that they were talking on their cell phones to each other, but CPD has been unable to independently verify this because they refused to turn over their cell phones,” Guglielmi told Radar.)
Police patrols “responded to the residence to take a report and the victim was still wearing the rope around his neck when they arrived,” he said. “He explained to them why he had the rope around his neck, and the officers closed their body cams at his request, because they were in his private residence.”
A rep for Smollett has not responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.