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President Donald Trump spread a baseless claim that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a staff member in 2001. (AP/Steven Senne/Alex Brandon) President Donald Trump spread a baseless claim that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a staff member in 2001. (AP/Steven Senne/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump spread a baseless claim that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a staff member in 2001. (AP/Steven Senne/Alex Brandon)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 26, 2020

Donald Trump spreads baseless claim that MSNBC host murdered a staff member in 2001

If Your Time is short

  • In 2001, a female staff member to then-Rep. Joe Scarborough was found dead in a Florida district office.

  • The medical examiner determined she died when a heart problem caused her to faint and hit her head on the edge of a desk.

  • Scarborough was in Washington, D.C. at the time of death, there has been no evidence to suggest foul play, and no official call to revisit the incident.

Twice in the past two weeks, President Donald Trump has revived the unsupported assertion that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a member of his staff when he served in Congress in 2001.

"When will they open a cold case on the psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida," Trump tweeted May 12. "Did he get away with murder?"

"So many unanswered and obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now!" he tweeted May 26. "Law enforcement eventually will?"

We reached out to the White House to learn more about the unanswered questions and did not hear back.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there are no questions that have any grounding in fact.

A 2001 death

In the summer of 2001, Lori Klausutis, a  constituent services coordinator was found dead in Scarborough’s congressional district office in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. PolitiFact founder and former Washington bureau chief of the St. Petersburg Times Bill Adair investigated at the time.

"Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland has said Klausutis, 28, of Niceville, lost consciousness because of an abnormal heart rhythm and fell, hitting her head on a desk," Adair wrote. "The head injury caused the death, Berkland said."

Recently, Adair wrote on Twitter about the reporting experience. "I filed public records requests and did a fair number of interviews. I talked with people who knew the aide, Lori Klausutis, and questioned the police chief and the medical examiner," he wrote.

Adair said there is no evidence to support the idea that Klausutis died of anything but natural causes. She had told others on the day of her death that she was feeling unwell.

At the time of her death, Scarborough was hundreds of miles away in Washington, D.C.

When Trump raised the "unsolved mystery" in 2017, we rated that Pants on Fire. No evidence has emerged since that would alter that rating.

A widower’s plea

After Trump tweeted May 12, widower Timothy Klausutis wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, asking the social media company to pull down Trump’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," Klausitis wrote May 21.

Klausitis said "there has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died."

"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." 

In his first tweet, Trump said Scarborough left office "quietly and quickly" after the aide’s death. Scarborough had announced he wouldn’t run two months before her death.

Our ruling

Trump said there are unanswered and obvious questions about Scarborough and the death of a staff member in 2001.

The medical examiner reported that she died from a blow to the head after an underlying heart condition caused her to faint and fall.

The White House provided no list of unanswered questions from any official body.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

 

Our Sources

Donald Trump, tweet, May 26, 2020

Donald Trump, tweet, May 12, 2020

Timothy Klausutis, letter to Twitter CEO, May 21, 2020

Bill Adair, tweet, May 13, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump's Pants on Fire 'unsolved mystery' attack on Joe Scarborough, Nov. 29, 2017

St. Petersburg Times, Rep. Scarborough chooses kids over D.C., May 26, 2001

St. Petersburg Times, Aide found dead had said she felt ill, Aug. 28, 2001

Washington Post, Florida family grieves as Trump spreads debunked conspiracy theory to attack MSNBC host, May 24, 2020

 

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Donald Trump spreads baseless claim that MSNBC host murdered a staff member in 2001

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