The widower of a woman whose 2001 death has become fodder for baseless conspiracy theories spread by President Donald Trump is appealing directly to the head of Twitter to take down the president‘s tweets.
“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 J. Klausutis wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which was dated last week but gained attention Tuesday when The New York Times’ Kara Swisher published it in an op-ed.
But Klausutis’ letter was not enough to move Twitter or Trump. Twitter will not be removing the posts at this time, according to a company spokesperson.
“We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Klausutis’ wife, Lori, died at age 28 from a fall precipitated by an undiagnosed heart condition, as confirmed by the medical examiner and police. Nineteen years later, her death is making headlines because of her employer at the time: then-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.). She was working in a Florida office, while Scarborough was in Washington at the time of her death.
But now Scarborough is an outspoken — and, thanks to his MSNBC talk show “Morning Joe,” prominent — critic of Trump. So fringe conspiracy theories that have circulated in the past began to bubble up again, intimating he might have murdered Lori Klausutis. The president and his family were quick to pick up on the thread in multiple tweets this month.
And on Tuesday, after Klausutis’ letter drew widespread attention, Trump doubled down on Twitter. He incorrectly described it as a cold case, called Scarborough a “Psycho” and wrote, “So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?”
In his letter, Klausutis suggested to Dorsey that “Twitter’s policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean.” Per his reading of Twitter’s terms of service, he said, other users would be banned for tweets like Trump’s.
Klausutis also wrote of the enduring pain his wife’s loved ones feel over her early death, and how the conspiracy theories have made it harder for them to move on.
“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage,” he wrote. “As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life.”
Twitter last year said it would begin marking politicians’ rule-breaking tweets with warnings, but the company has been reluctant to remove them out of free speech and censorship concerns. An October blog post laid out company executives’ thinking, positing that leaving world leaders’ tweets up may serve the public interest even if they violate policies.
Trump's top spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, defended the social media missives from the White House briefing room Tuesday, responding to numerous questions from reporters by sidestepping the concerns raised in Klausutis' letter and asserting that "the onus is on" Scarborough to answer questions about Lori Klausutis' death.
McEnany said she wasn't sure if Trump had seen the letter from her widower, and wouldn't elaborate on what Trump's intention was by reviving the case online but added, "Our hearts are with Lori's family."
Steven Overly contributed to this report.