President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought without evidence to link MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to the death of one of his staffers in 2001, when he was a Republican congressman.
The medical examiner found that the death was accidental, due to a heart problem that caused the aide to fall and hit her head on a desk, and no evidence has ever emerged to suggest otherwise. Nor has Trump supplied any.
Scarborough was in Washington, D.C., nearly 800 miles away, when the body of Lori Klausutis, 28, was found July 20, 2001, in Scarborough’s district office in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Trump used to have a warm relationship with Scarborough and his wife, Mika Brzezinski, cohosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.“ But the husband and wife team have become tough critics of the president, who in turn has frequently insulted the pair.
On May 12, Trump tweeted: “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!”
Trump has returned to Twitter several times sounding similar themes.
On May 24, the president hinted that Scarborough had had an affair with Klausutis as he directed his followers to a 2011 conspiracy theory-tinged story on the conservative website True Pundit. (No evidence has surfaced that Scarborough had a relationship with the married Klausutis.)
Trump, May 24: A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!
Trump’s tweetfest continued into this week.
On May 27, Trump tweeted, “Psycho Joe Scarborough is rattled, not only by his bad ratings but all of the things and facts that are coming out on the internet about opening a Cold Case. He knows what is happening!”
We asked the White House what evidence Trump had to support his insinuations and what he saw as unanswered questions about Klausutis’ death, but we received no response. When asked about the issue on May 26, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany added no support for Trump’s serious charges about Scarborough.
The medical examiner’s report on Klausutis’ death shows that Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland had little uncertainty about what transpired. “There is no doubt that the head injury is as a result of a fall rather than a blow being delivered to the head by a moving object,” he wrote.
Berkland explained that Klausutis had “a classic ‘contrecoup’ injury or bruise to the brain, meaning that her brain was bruised on the opposite side from where the external force was applied.” He continued, “The contrecoup contusion results when a freely moving, mobile head strikes an unyielding, firm, fixed object in a fall” –in this case, the desk.
This, he added, is quite different from a “coup” contusion, “which results from a moving object (example – a ball bat) that strikes a stationary head. In the coup injury, there is bruising of the brain on the same side as the external injury. There was no coup contusion in Lori Klausutis.”
Berkland said Klausutis’ fall “was most likely as a result of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia” caused by an undiagnosed heart abnormality.
Last week, Timothy Klausutis, Lori’s widower, asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to take down the president’s tweets about his wife.
Klausutis, May 21: I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but I’ve reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without any evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.
In the letter, disclosed by New York Times contributing opinion writer Kara Swisher, Klausutis wrote about the impact of the conspiracy theorists, including the president.
Klausutis, May 21: There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. … The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage.
Twitter has not taken the tweets down. It did issue a statement expressing sympathy to the Klausutis family and said it was exploring changes in its procedures to help it deal with such situations.
Twitter statement, May 26: We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family. We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.
Twitter makes exceptions to its content standards for heads of state on the grounds that their comments are often newsworthy.
Twitter on May 26 added fact-checking links to two Trump tweets with questionable claims about voter fraud. The social media giant has long been under pressure to do something about Trump’s inaccurate posts. On May 27, Trump tweeted that social media companies “totally silence conservatives voices,” adding, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”
Trump was asked on May 26 if he knew about Klausutis’ letter “begging” Twitter to delete Trump’s tweets. Trump said he did, but continued to press for an investigation of Scarborough.
Trump, May 26: I’m sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it, and it’s a very serious situation. … No, it’s a very suspicious thing, and I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it. It’ll be a very good thing. As you know, there’s no statute of limitations.
On May 27, Trump’s tweets about Scarborough drew fire from two prominent Republicans. Sen. Mitt Romney said the president’s allegations were “vile, baseless,” and Rep. Liz Cheney called on Trump to stop tweeting about Klausutis’ death, telling reporters that Trump’s tweets are causing her family “great pain.”
This is not the first time Trump has alluded to an alleged scandal in Scarborough’s past. In 2017, after NBC anchor Matt Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct, Trump tweeted: “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!”
PolitiFact looked into the tweet and delved into the allegations about Scarborough and Klausutis’ death, recalling that they had long had traction with some conspiracy theorists and that Markos Moulitsas, who founded the liberal blog Daily Kos, was once banned from MSNBC for alluding to the unfounded allegations. PolitiFact awarded Trump’s tweet its lowest rating, “Pants on Fire!”
It was true then and it is true now: There is no evidence to support Trump’s innuendos about Scarborough.
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