In 2001, a 28-year-old woman named Lori Klausutis died in a tragic accident, hitting her head on a desk while working for then-U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough. Since then, her death has fueled baseless conspiracy theories on the most noxious corners of the internet, and no amount of debunking ever seems to satisfy the legions of internet trolls who insist on believing something sinister went down. All that would be hard enough for any bereaved family, but it’s even harder when those conspiracies are pushed by the President of the United States. Now, Klausutis’ widowed husband Timothy is asking Twitter to remove Trump’s tweets about his late wife.
“President Trump on Tuesday tweeted to his nearly 80 million followers alluding to the repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough. The son of the president followed and more directly attacked my wife by tweeting to his followers as the means of spreading this vicious lie,” Klausutis wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The letter was obtained by the New York Times.
“The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without 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.”
The full letter is posted here.
For the past few weeks, Trump and his oldest son have been using Twitter to call for a new investigation into “Psycho Joe Scarborough,” who is now a prominent MSNBC host along with his wife Mika Brzezinski. Trump has feuded with the couple for much of his political career, but the accusation of murder takes their public brawls to a decidedly lower level.
“Did he get away with murder?” the President tweeted. “Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nutjob!”
Trump has also implied that the Klausutis and Scarborough may have been having an affair, letting his 80.2 million Twitter followers run with the possible implications.
“What show is going to go on to discuss Lori Klausutis?” echoed Donald Trump Jr.
This is not the first time that Trump has indulged in conspiracy theories. The political neophyte’s rise was fueled by birtherism, and plenty of attention has been given to his various unproven, dangerous or even occasionally bizarre suggested treatments for COVID-19. But this is an example of how non-famous, non-wealthy, apolitical citizens can get caught up in the President’s style of governance. Mr. Klausutis has no apparent interest in the ongoing feud between Trump and Scarborough. He is just a man who lost his wife to an undiagnosed heart condition nearly 20 years ago and is understandably sick of seeing her name used in a political dispute. “I have mourned my wife every day since her passing,” he wrote. “I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life.”
Trump has violated Twitter’s community rules and terms of service in the past, but Dorsey has resisted taking any action, saying that the President’s tweets are newsworthy. The company is generally hands-off when it comes to policing its users’ content, only intervening in cases like Alex Jones who spread conspiracies about the Parkland shooting. But the Times has learned that Twitter’s leadership is having conversations about a more effective way of dealing with misinformation on its platform. Whether new measures — possibly including flagging dubious tweets with links to accurate information — would change the President’s Twitter style is an open question. But in the meantime, we are left with one bereaved man who just wants his wife to rest in peace.
“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” he wrote.
On Tuesday morning, Trump doubled down on, where else, Twitter — claiming he was just saying what many others had speculated on in the past and baselessly predicting that Scarborough’s marriage is doomed. “In 2016 when Joe & his wacky future ex-wife, Mika, would endlessly interview me, I would always be thinking about whether or not Joe could have done such a horrible thing? Maybe or maybe not, but I find Joe to be a total Nut Job, and I knew him well, far better than most,” he tweeted. “So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?”