He asked Twitter to remove Trump's false tweets about his dead wife. Twitter refused

President Trump tweets have dredged up a baseless and debunked claim about MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Brian Stelter discuss the decades-old conspiracy theory.

Posted: May 27, 2020 7:31 AM
Updated: May 27, 2020 7:31 AM

Six times this month, in a vile attempt to punish a political rival, President Trump has tweeted about a decades-old conspiracy theory about MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

Twitter has come under increasing pressure to remove the tweets, but the company is not bending, despite being called out by some of the people personally hurt by the posts.

Facebook, where many of Trump's tweets about the repugnant theory were cross-posted, also said Tuesday it would not take any action.

Trump's smears about Scarborough center on the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, who worked in his Florida office when he served in Congress. Scarborough's opponents and a bevy of internet trolls have tried to blame him for her death, even though he was in Washington at the time.

Trump brought up the baseless theory once in 2017, causing a surge of newfound attention about Klausutis' death — and unwelcome phone calls to her family members.

Trump ratcheted it up on May 4 and said "Concast," his derogatory name for MSNBC's owner Comcast, "should open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough." Since then, his tweets have become even more pointed, essentially accusing Scarborough of murder.

Family members and friends of Klausutis have watched, some of them in disgust, but have refrained from commenting publicly for fear that they'd just further the conspiracy theory.

Klausutis' widower, T.J. Klausutis, took action in private last week, writing to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and asking him to remove Trump's tweets.

"Nearly 19 years ago, my wife, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning. Her name is Lori Kaye Klausutis and she was 28 years old when she died," he wrote in a letter to Dorsey dated May 21. "Her passing is the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister."

T.J. said he has tried to honor his late wife by protecting her memory "as I would have protected her in life."

He said that's why he was writing to Dorsey.

"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," he wrote. "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."

Scarborough's co-host and wife Mika Brzezinski has also applied pressure, including on their program "Morning Joe."

"You can keep tweeting about Joe, but you're just hurting other people," Brzezinski said to Trump on the air last week.

She publicly asked for a meeting with Dorsey and said, on Twitter, that "it's just crazy that Trump, the chief law enforcement officer of the US is using the power of the presidency to harass someone who is a critic." She said it's "nuts that this is accepted. Nuts."

On Sunday, when CNN Business asked Twitter if Trump's "cold case" tweets violated its rules and if any action would be taken, the company declined to comment.

On Tuesday morning, New York Times columnist Kara Swisher published the Klausutis letter and Brzezinski read it on the air.

Three hours later, Twitter told CNN Business that it would not be removing the tweets.

"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family," a Twitter spokesperson said. "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."

The company did not provide any details on what "product features and policies" it has been working to expand. Klausutis declined to comment.

Last year, Twitter said it was instituting a policy that would make some exceptions for world leaders like Trump. The company said it planned to place a disclaimer on future tweets from world leaders who break its rules but which Twitter decides are in the "public interest." Twitter made good on that promise on Tuesday by labeling a pair of Trump's tweets as misleading because he falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. But the disputed tweets about Scarborough and Lori Klausutis have yet to be given this label.

In response to CNN's request for comment, Facebook said, "We do not remove political speech solely because people may find it offensive, as this content understandably is to the family of Lori Klausutis and others. Speech from candidates and heads of state is among the most scrutinized content on our platform, which helps ensure people are held accountable for their words."

This is not the first time conservatives have sought to enflame a conspiracy theory about the death of a political staffer in order to hurt a Democratic rival.

Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich helped peddle unfounded claims about Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered in 2016.

Rich's brother later called on the likes of Hannity to "take responsibility for the unimaginable pain" they had caused in spreading baseless information about how Seth Rich died.

Observers have pointed out numerous similarities between the Rich and Klausutis cases.

On Tuesday morning, the President posted twice more about Scarborough, seemingly in response to news coverage of his behavior. He pointed out that the conspiracy theory was not a "Donald Trump original thought, this has been going on for years, long before I joined the chorus."

"This is much like what Trump did with birtherism," New York Times television critic James Poniewozik commented. "People may now believe he invented it, but there too he took a conspiracy theory already fermenting in the swamp and popularized it" when other politicians wouldn't. "Original thoughts have never been his thing -- shamelessness is."

At an afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was questioned about the Scarborough controversy, and she tried to turn it back around on the MSNBC host.

"If we want to start talking about false accusations, we have quite a few we can go through," she said, and brought up comments by Scarborough and Brzezinski that she called false and "irresponsible." She urged reporters to ask Scarborough about a comment he made 17 years ago.

When asked if Trump had seen the letter from Klausutis, McEnany said, "I don't know if he's seen the letter, but I do know that our hearts are with Lori's family at this time."

Trump said later in the afternoon that he has seen the widower's letter, but signaled that he has no plans to stop tweeting about the subject.

"It's a very suspicious thing, and I hope that somebody gets to the bottom of it," he claimed, even though the case has been closed for nearly two decades.

Read the letter here:

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