'Horrifying Lies': Widower Asks Twitter to Intervene as Trump Spreads Conspiracy of Young Woman's Death
"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," Lori Klausutis' husband wrote to Jack Dorsey last week
The three-page letter is unsparing — just as, Timothy J. "TJ" Klausutis wrote last week, his dead wife's memory had been similarly unspared by Donald Trump.
"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," TJ wrote in a Thursday letter to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. (The letter was first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by PEOPLE.)
In recent weeks, President Trump has baselessly suggested Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough murdered Lori Klausutis, TJ's 28-year-old wife, in 2001 when she was a constituent-services aide to Scarborough, 57, during his time as a Florida congressman.
"When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida," the president wrote on May 12. "Did he get away with murder? Some people think so."
Trump, 73, prefers to feud in personal terms with rivals and critics, and he and the Morning Joe hosts have traded sharp words before as Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski grew more and more disapproving of his administration.
But Trump’s tweets spreading the idea that Scarborough was a psychotic killer, despite all evidence otherwise, were among his most incendiary statements in a career marked by provocation. (He built his political profile, in part, on promoting the debunked claim that former President Barack Obama was not born in America.)
Contrary to Trump's repeated implications, Lori Klausutis' July 2001 death was accidental: The medical examiner found that she had fallen in her office and hit her head on a desk, dying of an acute subdural hematoma.
The medical examiner suspected she passed out — basically collapsing "in mid stride" — as a result of an irregular heartbeat from an undiagnosed heart valve disease.
Lori was working alone that day in the satellite congressional office and had complained of not feeling well, according to reports.
Authorities believe she died near the end or soon after the business day on July 19, 2001, and was found the next morning when a couple came in for an appointment. Police said there was no sign of foul play.
The woman who found her told the local paper she believed Lori must have had a seizure and gone into cardiac arrest.
“Every time I saw her, she had a smile on her face,” the music director at Lori's church, where she sang in the choir, said of her in 2001. “She helped out with everything and was always very people-friendly.”
A fellow member of the Young Republicans group where she served as treasurer told the Northwest Florida Daily News at the time that she was “a joy.”
While Lori's death initially attracted some news coverage — and conspiratorial whispering from liberal commentators — the spotlight largely dimmed in the decades since, after authorities released their available documentation and the medical examiner explained his determination.
"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," her husband wrote in his letter to Twitter's CEO last week.
"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," TJ Klausutis 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."
On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that police should get involved, doubling-down on his views even as TJ had pleaded with Twitter to intervene.
“So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?” the president wrote.
"The opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough was not a Donald Trump original thought, this has been going on for years, long before I joined the chorus," Trump wrote on Tuesday.
Indeed, TJ wrote to Dorsey last week that "there has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she [his wife] died" and "because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life."
"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."
"Please," he wrote to Dorsey, "delete these tweets."
"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," he wrote. "I am now angry as well as frustrated and grieved."
Later Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that "our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time," but she defended Trump by noting, as he had earlier Tuesday, that he was not the first person to spread the conspiracy theory.
She also said it was Scarborough who had done the worse thing: She pointed back to a 2003 appearance he made on Don Imus' radio show in which, she claimed, he "joked about killing an intern." (Clips show that Imus and his co-hosts made the joke and Scarborough laughed along with it.)
In a statement in response to TJ's letter, Twitter 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."
Asked by PEOPLE what existing features might be expanded, a company spokesman pointed toward labels and warning rolled out earlier this month that were designed to push back on misinformation related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The company said it would not be removing or labeling Trump's previous tweets about Lori, however.
The spokesman declined to say whether the company or Dorsey himself had been in touch with Lori Klausutis' widow (whom PEOPLE has not been able to reach).
Twitter is "frequently in touch with the White House on a number of issues," the spokesman said.
Since the president began circulating conspiracies about Lori's death, Scarborough has called the tweets "unspeakably cruel" and said Trump was hurting Lori's relatives 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,” Scarborough said earlier this month.
"These are not public figures," he said on Tuesday morning's broadcast, discussing the letter.
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.”