While Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that "our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time," she defended Trump by noting he wasn't the first person to spread the conspiracy theory

By Adam Carlson
May 26, 2020 04:20 PM
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

At a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany fielded multiple questions from reporters about Donald Trump's baseless claims that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a 28-year-old woman in 2001.

Most recently as Tuesday morning, the president has spread a conspiracy theory about Scarborough and the death of Lori Klausutis, who was an aide in Scarborough's office when he was a Florida congressman.

Klausutis accidentally died from an acute subdural hematoma in July 2001 after falling and hitting her head on a desk in the office — the likely result, the medical examiner determined, of an irregular heartbeat from an undiagnosed heart valve disease that made her pass out.

Her body was found the next morning. She had reportedly complained of feeling unwell before her accident.

Trump appeared to first tweet about Klausutis' death in 2017 but has escalated his theorizing in recent weeks.

"When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida," he wrote on May 12. "Did he get away with murder? Some people think so."

He has feuded with Scarborough and Scarborough's Morning Joe co-host (and wife) Mika Brzezinski for several years, sometimes in personal terms, as they have become more vocal about criticizing him.

On Thursday, TJ Klausutis, Lori's widower, sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking for Trump's "horrifying lies" about her death to be removed from the website.

"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 wrote.

He wrote that Lori's death was "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."

"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," he wrote.

"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."

President Donald Trump (left) and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty; Bryan Bedder/Getty
President Donald Trump
| Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

While McEnany, 32, told reporters on Tuesday that "our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time," she defended Trump by noting, as he had, 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."

"That was, I’m sure, pretty hurtful to Lori’s family and Joe Scarborough himself brought this up with Don Imus and Joe Scarborough himself can answer it," McEnany said.

In fact, according to clips from that appearance published two weeks ago by the conservative news website The Daily Caller, it appears that Imus' co-hosts made a joke about it and, later, Imus briefly brought it up to Scarborough, who laughed. (At that time, Scarborough had resigned from the House of Representatives two years earlier and was on to his cable news career.)

“Don’t be afraid to be funny, because you are funny. You know, I ask you why you won Congress — you said you’d had sex with the intern and then you had to kill her," Imus told him in 2003, according to clips from the full interview, which was not available.

“Exactly,” Scarborough said back, laughing.

"I mean, that’s pretty risky to say," Imus replied.

"What are you gonna do," Scarborough said.

Speaking Tuesday, the White House press secretary also took aim at Morning Joe.

"They’ve made false accusations that I won’t go through, that I would not say from this podium, against the president of the United States and they should be held to account for their falsehoods," McEnany said.

A reporter asked her: “Does that justify the president spreading a false conspiracy theory that suggests he’s responsible for murder?”

“I would point you back to Joe Scarborough, who laughed and joked about this item on Don Imus’ show," she responded, referring to the 17-year-old clips. "It’s Joe Scarborough who has to answer these questions.”

Responding to McEnany on Twitter later Tuesday, Brzezinski wrote that Scarborough had been "embarrassed" by Imus' comment and was "trying to move on to talk about the show" during his 2003 appearance.

President Donald Trump
| Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

During Tuesday's briefing, referring to the letter TJ sent Twitter — which McEnany said she didn't know if Trump had seen — another reporter asked, "Why can’t this widower get peace from the president?"

"The onus is on the president," the reporter noted. "The widower is talking specifically about the president."

McEnany took a question from another reporter without replying.

Lastly, McEnany said she had no "future announcements on the president’s action" when someone asked if Trump wanted police to investigate the accidental death, as he implied in a tweet.

In a statement on Tuesday in response to TJ Klausutis' 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 Twitter 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.

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.

Discussing the letter on Tuesday morning's broadcast, he said, "These are not public figures."