CNN  — 

Tina Tchen’s longtime friend wasn’t surprised the former Obama administration aide helped connect Jussie Smollett’s family with a top Illinois prosecutor.

Weeks before a grand jury indicted Smollett on the theory he falsely reported being the victim of a hate crime, relatives of the actor, who is black and gay, had expressed to Tchen “concerns about the investigation” by Chicago police.

Getting the right person to take those sort of concerns seriously has been a hallmark of Tchen’s career, highlighted by a stint as then-first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and now by her work leading a probe of workplace culture at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Long before Black Lives Matter, long before Time’s Up, long before #MeToo, we were aware of how difficult it is to be believed as a woman, as a gay, as a black,” Tchen’s friend, Marilyn Katz, said. “Our whole lives have taught us that lesson.”

But the involvement of Tchen, a Harvard graduate who earned her law degree from Northwestern University, in the Smollett case has sparked accusations of favoritism, particularly after the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx this week dropped 16 felony charges of disorderly conduct against Smollett. In exchange, he agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bail and complete community service.

Tchen, 63, said her contact with Foxx on behalf of Smollett’s family was not intended to influence the case’s outcome.

Tina Tchen has long prioritized equity and empathy, fellow attorneys and activists said.

“I know members of the Smollett family based on prior work together,” she said this week in a statement.

“Shortly after Mr. Smollett reported he was attacked, as a family friend, I contacted Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who I also know from prior work together. My sole activity was to put the chief prosecutor in the case in touch with an alleged victim’s family who had concerns about how the investigation was being characterized in public.”

That explanation, however, hasn’t quieted calls for investigations into whether Smollett got off easy because of his fame and well-placed connections, perhaps including Tchen.

Smollett’s camp denies the claims. Tchen did not respond beyond her statement to CNN’s request for comment.

Tchen texts prosecutor of family’s ‘concerns’

Smollett told police two men attacked him on January 29, yelling racist and homophobic slurs while striking him. He said the assault ended with a noose placed around his neck and a chemical poured on him.

Tchen reached out to Foxx just three days after the attack report, according to text and email messages obtained by CNN through a public records request. She wrote that the family had “concerns about the investigation.”