On May 12, in the midst of days of tweeting about the alleged crimes of Obamagate, Trump took a break to tweet about another conspiracy theory – the supposed 2001 murder of a Congressional intern, Lori Klausutis, by then-House Representative Joe Scarborough, now a host on MSNBC.
To this day, there is no evidence that Klausutis was murdered.
Trump has been harshly criticized for promoting the conspiracy theory in his tweets and Klausutis’ widow has written to Twitter asking to have the tweets taken down.
While some Republicans have been critical of Trump’s role in spreading the conspiracy, popular radio host Rush Limbaugh, among others, have brushed off the controversy, saying that Trump merely spreads conspiracy theories to anger his critics.
The death of Lori Klausutis
In his numerous tweets related to the death of Lori Klausutis, Trump has never directly mentioned her name.
Klausutis died at the Florida congressional office of Joe Scarborough, then a Republican Representative for Florida’s 1st congressional district. The coroner determined that Klausutis died after passing out and hitting her head on a desk. The fall was related to an undiagnosed heart condition.
The conspiracy theory alleges that Scarborough had an affair with Klausutis and left office in the wake of his murdering her. In reality, Scarborough had announced a month prior to Klausutis’ death that he was retiring to spend more time with his two young sons.
Trump mentioned the supposed “unsolved mystery” of Klausutis’ death back in 2017, but he has never offered any evidence that the death was the result of murder.
During the 2016 election, Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, his co-host (and now wife) on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” appeared to be on friendly terms with Trump, even to the point of seemingly supporting his candidacy.
However, since his election, the couple have frequently criticized Trump and the Republican Party and have each received their share of attacks from the president as well.
Accusing the Republicans of abandoning “their core values,” Scarborough officially left the Republican Party in 2017 and became an Independent.
A plea from Lori’s husband
On May 21, Timothy Klausutis, Lori’s former husband, wrote an impassioned letter to the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey. On the death of Lori, Timothy writes, “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.”
In the letter, Timothy laments the “frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies” before including screenshots of three tweets: two from Trump and one from his son, Donald Trump Jr., each referencing the supposed murder of Lori. He states, “My request is simple: Please delete these tweets.”
The letter continues:
“The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered–without any 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.”
Timothy ends with a final appeal to Dorsey.
“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.”
Timothy’s letter spread across the internet, but it apparently did not help. On Tuesday, Twitter said it would not remove Trump’s tweets despite being “deeply sorry about the pain these statements … are causing the family.”
Trump has clearly been undeterred by the letter. He has tweeted multiple times about the supposed “cold case” throughout this week. Despite recently fact-checking two of Trump’s tweets related to mail-in ballots, Twitter has not added a fact check warning to any of his tweets related to Klausutis.
Neither Twitter’s terms of service nor its rules and policies expressly forbid sharing false information except as it relates to elections. An official Twitter blog post on May 11 says that the site will remove misleading information related to COVID-19.
What is Trump’s motivation?
Trump has a history of sharing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, including that his predecessor, Barack Obama, was born in Kenya, and that the father of Republican Senator Ted Cruz was linked to the plot to assassinate former President John F. Kennedy.
According to conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump during this year’s State of the Union address, the president doesn’t believe the conspiracy theories are true. He simply spreads them to rile up his opponents.
That’s according to a video of Limbaugh during his radio show that was shared on Twitter by Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog.
“Do you think Trump cares whether Scarborough murdered anybody or not? No, of course he doesn’t care!” Limbaugh states. “So why is he tweeting it? Well, because it’s out there. He didn’t make it up … so Trump is just throwing gasoline on a fire here. And he’s having fun watching the flames. And he’s having fun watching these holier-than-thou leftist journalists react like their moral sensibilities have been forever rocked.”
Whether Limbaugh’s interpretation of Trump’s motives is true or not, a few members of the Republican Party have taken the rare step of publicly condemning Trump’s spreading of the Klausutis conspiracy theory.
Senator Mitt Romney, a former presidential candidate, and the only Republican to cast a single vote against Trump in his impeachment trial, didn’t directly mention the president in a May 27 tweet in which he defended Scarborough and lamented that Timothy Klausutis had to “weather vile, baseless accusations.”
On the same day, House Representative Liz Cheney told reporters, “I do think the president should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. He’s the Commander-in-Chief of this nation. And it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died.”
Cheney is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Fighting fire with fire
With Trump continuing to push the unsubstantiated Klausutis conspiracy, Twitter users have taken it upon themselves to treat Trump to the same conspiracy mongering.
On May 26, a parody account, @TheTweetOfGod, which posts satirically as God, began a trending counterpunch to the Klausutis story. Over multiple tweets, the account detailed the October 2000 death of Carolyn Gombell, a former personal assistant of Trump. The real estate tycoon is accused of strangling Carolyn to death after she became pregnant with his child.
The elaborate story involves Trump bribing the former New York Police Department chief, Bernie Kierik, who Trump pardoned in February 2020. The tweets also allege the existence of an incriminating audio recording from the deceased and forensic evidence that points to Trump’s guilt. The posts end with the hashtag #JusticeForCarolyn, which soon after trended in the US.
The one catch in this viral narrative is that there is no Carolyn Gombell. The entire story was blatantly fabricated to illustrate how false accusations can be made about anyone. That hasn’t kept the hashtag and story from going viral. It’s impossible to know how many of the nearly 60,000 users who retweeted the original post are aware that the story is fake.
On May 28, the God account shared a screenshot of a message from Twitter. It reported that the Gombell tweets, as well as another unrelated tweet about the president performing an act of bestiality, were not guilty of “any violations of the Twitter Rules.”
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