Trump Says He's Seen Letter from Widower Urging End to Conspiracy Tweets but He's Not Backing Down
"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," Lori Klausutis' husband wrote last week
President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday that while he had seen the letter Lori Klausutis' widower wrote to Twitter calling for the removal of Trump's baseless conspiracy theories about her accidental death, he was going to keep talking about it anyway.
"I'm sure that, ultimately, they want to get to the bottom of it and it's a very serious situation," he argued while taking questions at an unrelated Rose Garden event.
The president's tweets about Klausutis, which started in 2017 but ramped up in recent weeks, suggest she was murdered by Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough in July 2001, when he was a Florida congressman and she was an aide.
"When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder?" Trump wrote on May 12. "Some people think so." (The president has long feuded with Scarborough and Morning Joe over their criticism of his administration.)
In fact, Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition and the medical examiner determined she likely fell unconscious from an irregular heartbeat and hit her head on a desk. She had reportedly complained to multiple people on July 19, 2001, of feeling unwell and was last heard from when she spoke to a co-worker on the phone shortly before the end of the work day.
Her body was found the next morning. She was two weeks away from her 29th birthday.
"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," TJ Klausutis, Lori's husband, wrote in a letter to Twitter's CEO last week asking for Trump's tweets about her accidental death to be removed.
"I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. 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," he wrote, adding, "The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet."
TJ's letter was made public in an op-ed column published Tuesday by The New York Times.
At a press briefing later that day, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, "Our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time." But she defended Trump by noting that he was not the first person to raise the conspiracy. She also said Scarborough had done the worse thing by, in her words, joking about Lori's death during a 2003 appearance on Don Imus' radio show.
Clips from that appearance show Imus and Imus' colleagues first made the joke about an intern being killed — an apparent reference to Lori — and Scarborough laughed along when it was brought up to him.
Scarborough's wife and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, responded on Twitter that he had been "embarrassed" by Imus' comment and was "trying to move on to talk about the show" during his 2003 appearance.
At his Rose Garden appearance, Trump doubled down on his theorizing despite all evidence to the contrary. A reporter noted that "you're suggesting that Joe Scarborough was responsible."
"A lot of people suggest that," Trump said. "And hopefully, someday, people are going to find out. It’s certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad. Very sad and very suspicious."
Of the Imus appearance McEnany had also brought up, he said, "I thought it was totally inappropriate," and he again implied law enforcement should get involved.
"I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it. It'll be a very good thing," he said. "As you know, there's no statute of limitations."
Wednesday morning, he again referenced Lori's death on Twitter.
Trump's incendiary suggestions have drawn backlash. Scarborough said earlier this month that it was painful to Lori's loved ones most of all: “You, once again, drag a family through this and make them relive it again. ... As if losing a loved one the first time isn’t enough."
Illinios Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican who has criticized Trump before, on Sunday called on him to stop tweeting about Lori.
“Just stop,” Kinzinger wrote. “Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”
Twitter, which began labeling some of Trump's misleading tweets with fact-checking information, said Tuesday it would not be taking action on his theories about Lori Klausutis.
In a statement in response to TJ's letter, a spokesman said, "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."
In his letter to Twitter last week, Lori's widower ended his request emphatically.
"I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain," he wrote. "I would also ask that you consider Lori's niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to 'learn' about her this way.
"My wife deserves better."