President Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to note the firing of Matt Lauer at NBC News — and, in the process, took aim at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough over a death that occurred at Scarborough’s Florida office when he was a member of Congress.
Following Lauer’s firing over what NBC News described as “inappropriate sexual behavior,” Trump wondered when executives at the network and its corporate owner, Comcast, would be terminated for “putting out so much Fake News.”
Then he wrote: “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!”
The president appeared to be referring to the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, a 28-year-old aide who worked for Scarborough at the time, when he represented Florida’s 1st congressional district.
But Klausutis’s death is not an unsolved mystery: Authorities determined 16 years ago that she died after losing consciousness from an abnormal heart rhythm and collapsed, striking her head. She was discovered in Scarborough’s office in Fort Walton Beach, lying on her back with her head near a desk, according to a 2001 police report.
The circumstances of Klausutis’s death on July 20, 2001, have prompted conspiracy theories — some of which appear to persist. But no foul play was suspected, and her death was ultimately ruled an accident by the medical examiner.
After Trump’s insinuation that Scarborough had something to do with Klausutis’s death, the “Morning Joe” co-host refused to engage the president, tweeting: “Looks like I picked a good day to stop responding to Trump’s bizarre tweets. He is not well.”
Scarborough, who joined MSNBC after his departure from Congress and is now a contributing opinion columnist at The Washington Post, could not immediately be reached for comment.
An NBC spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet about the MSNBC host, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump once had a chummy relationship with “Morning Joe,” regularly calling in for lengthy interviews, referring to Scarborough and his co-host, Mika Brzezinski, as “supporters” and offering to officiate at their wedding.
But the hosts have become increasingly critical of Trump, and the president’s relationship with them has turned adversarial.
Now Scarborough regularly criticizes Trump in his opinion columns and on MSNBC.
In turn, the president has lashed out at the anchor, calling him “Psycho Joe,” slamming his “low rated show” and threatening to “tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure longtime girlfriend, @morningmika.”
In June, Trump viciously attacked Brzezinski, calling her “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claiming she “was bleeding badly from a facelift” when she and Scarborough came to Mar-a-Lago — the president’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla. — late last year.
From 1994 through 2001, Scarborough served as a Republican congressman.
Klausutis worked on his staff the last two years he was in office, according to the Tampa Bay Times; before her death, Scarborough had announced that he was leaving Congress.
The day before Klausutis was found dead in Scarborough’s Florida office, she had told a colleague she was not feeling well, according to a 2001 police report cited by the St. Petersburg Times, now known as the Tampa Bay Times.
As the newspaper reported in August 2001:
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. The head injury caused the death, Berkland said.
The report, which was released Monday, quotes friends and relatives as saying Klausutis was happily married and was known as “Little Miss Mary Sunshine.”
They said she was under moderate stress in the days before she died. She had two assignments due for college courses. She and her husband had recently moved into a new house, and she was looking for a new job because Scarborough recently resigned from Congress, effective in September.
Relatives told police she was upbeat about a job possibility at a local radio station and had recently received a $6,000 raise.
Relatives said she had been taking medication for acne and that she suffered a head injury in a traffic accident when she was a teenager that left her in a coma. When she recovered, she had signs of short-term memory loss.
A mail carrier who came in the office on July 19 said she appeared nervous. He said Klausutis told him she did not feel well.
Less than three weeks later, on Aug. 6, 2001, a Fort Walton Beach Police report noted that the medical examiner had determined Klausutis died as a result of an acute subdural hematoma, or blood clot.
The report cited a letter from the medical examiner, stating that the injury was the result of trauma from a fall as she lost consciousness from “a probable cardiac arrhythmia secondary to valvular heart disease.”
The manner of death was ruled “accidental,” and police concluded that there was no reason to further investigate.
A copy of the medical examiner’s report was not immediately available on Wednesday, but a police investigator told The Washington Post that authorities had left “no stone unturned.”
Former journalist Bill Adair, who covered Klausutis’s death for the then-St. Petersburg Times in 2001, said Wednesday that the continuing conspiracy theories are a “tragedy.”
Adair said he had looked into the case, interviewing the police chief and the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.
“After doing that reporting, there was no question in my mind that this was an accidental death and that there was no foul play,” he said in a phone interview with The Post.
Adair, now a journalism professor at the Sanford School for Public Policy at Duke University and the founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact, added: “It was a tragedy then that it was the subject of conspiracy theories; it’s even more of a tragedy now that it’s still the subject of conspiracy theories because the authorities were clear — they did a thorough investigation. It’s terrible that people are still referring to this as a mystery. It’s not a mystery.”
Reached by phone in Florida, a relative of Klausutis declined to comment, saying he was not aware that the president had tweeted about her death.