White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany deflected questions of why Donald Trump has been tweeting conspiracy theories about the 2001 death of an aide to Joe Scarborough by trying to cast blame on the Morning Joe co-host himself.
The widower of the aide, Timothy Klausutis, sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last week, asking the platform to remove the tweets. His wife, Lori, died in 2001 when she was serving as a staff member to Scarborough, who was then a congressman from Florida.
The coroner ruled her death accidental, but Trump has tweeted that it is a “cold case.” Timothy Klausutis’ letter made clear that the conspiracy theories are, by their nature, attacks on his wife’s memory, not merely insinuations about Scarborough. He wrote that 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.”
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Trump’s tweets had inferred that Scarborough was involved in Klausutis’s death.
At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, McEnany said that she did not know if Trump had seen Timothy Klausutis’ letter, but said that “our hearts are with Lori’s family at this time.”
But ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jon Karl asked why Trump was “accusing somebody of possibly murder. The family is pleading with the president to say, ‘Please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing this?”
“Well, you know, I would note that the president said this morning that this is not an original Trump thought on and it is not,” she said. “In fact, in 2003, on Don Imus’ show, it was Don Imus and Joe Scarborough that joked about killing an intern, joked and laughed about it, so that was pretty hurtful to Lori’s family and Joe Scarborough himself brought this up with Don Imus, and Joe Scarborough himself can answer it.”
Karl then said, “He’s accusing somebody of possibly murder. This is different. He’s not a private citizen; he’s the president.”
McEnany then tried to shift to accusations that Scarborough and his co-host and wife, Mika Brzezinski, have made. “Joe Scarborough if we want to start talking about false accusations, we have quite a few we can go through about Mika asserting, Mika Brzezinski …”
“I am asking about the president’s allegations,” Karl interjected.
McEnany responded, “And I am replying to you and saying this morning as recently I believe was this morning or yesterday Mika accused the president of being responsible for 100,000 deaths in this country. That’s incredibly irresponsible. They’ve dragged his family through the mud. 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. Joe Scarborough should be held to account for saying people will die by taking hydroxychloroquine, nevermind the millions of Americans, people across the world, who take it for rheumatory arthritis and other reasons. There are a litany of false headlines.”
Then Karl asked whether that justified the president “spreading a false conspiracy theory that suggested he is responsible for murder?”
She then added, “I would point you back to Joe Scarborough who laughed and joked about this item on Don Imus show. It is Joe Scarborough that has to answer these questions.”
McEnany was referring to a clip from Imus’ show that was posted by the group Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group and then picked up by Daily Caller. It was identified as coming from 2003.
Later, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS Newshour asked her why “can’t this widower get peace from the president.”
McEnany gave a similar answer.
“The widower is talking specifically about the president. Are you not going to answer that?” Alcindor asked.
Brzezinski quickly tweeted a response to McEnany. “The Press Secretary is lying. IMUS made the callous joke in 2003 during a break and then repeated it on air. Joe was embarrassed and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ trying to move on to talk about the show. No lies can cover up the hatefulness of Donald Trump.”
At the end of the press briefing, McEnany was asked whether Trump was asking for someone in law enforcement to reopen the case.
“I don’t have any announcements on the president’s actions but I would just refer everyone, for those of you haven’t heard it, go back and listen to the Don Imus soundbite,” she said. “It was very callous. It was very cruel, and I think laughing and joking about the death of an intern is something uncalled for and that is something we can all agree to.”
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