Lori Klausutis was an office worker for Joe Scarborough, the now co-host of Morning Joe on MSNBC and then Congressman in Florida. She passed away on July 19, 2001. Klausutis worked in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach congressional office from 1999-2001 during his time as a U.S. Republican Congressman from Florida’s 1st District.
Klausutis’ body was found shortly after 8 a.m. on July 20, 2001, by Juanita Marie Bergmann, a Destin resident and former nurse, and her husband, Andreas Bergmann who had an appointment at Scarborough’s office.
Two Fort Walton Beach police officers who witnessed the autopsy “reported her skull had been fractured.” This initial finding led to many conspiracy theorists speculating that the former aide had been murdered.
The 18-page autopsy report written by Associate State Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland, Lori “died from striking her head on the edge of a desk in the office. The fall that caused her to strike the desk was likely triggered by an undiagnosed heart condition known as floppy mitral valve disease, which is typically marked by abnormal heart rhythms.”
According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, Dr. Berkland released the exhaustive autopsy report to “extinguish the fires of speculation” surrounding the case.
In the report, Dr. Berkland said the hairline fracture found on Klausutis’ skull is consistent with an unconscious person’s fall and totally inconsistent with a physical assault. “We know for a fact she wasn’t whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury,” he wrote.
Dr. Berkland said the immediate cause of death was ruled “an acute subdural hematoma, or a blood clot, that resulted from a closed head trauma sustained in a fall,” later adding, “The manner of death is an accident. She was near unconsciousness as she was falling…because she did nothing to protect herself.”
Joe Scarborough’s office released the following press release in 2001, “My staff and family are greatly saddened by the loss of Lori Klausutis. I know Lori will be missed by the thousands of citizens who regularly contact my office to seek assistance with a variety of problems. May God grant Lori’s family the grace, comfort, and hope that will get them through this difficult time,”
According to an article written by the St. Petersburg Times in 2001, “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.”
The police report said there were two people who stopped by Scarborough’s office that day and saw Lori before she died. They both said that Klausutis told them she was “anxious and did not feel quite right.”
Former journalist Bill Adair, who covered Klausutis’s death for the then-St. Petersburg Times in 2001, told the Washington Post that the continuing conspiracy theories are a “tragedy.”
“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.
“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.” Said Adair.
Despite the findings by the medical examiner and corroborating statements in the 150-page police report, some people, including President Donald Trump, believe that there was foul play involved.
Medical Examiner Michael Berkland Has Been Embroiled in Controversy
The main thing conspiracy theorists point to in the Klausutis case is the fact that Dr. Berkland lost his medical license in Missouri and Florida. According to CBS News, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor’s license was ultimately revoked.
Berkland then started working at the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola, Florida in 1997 before being fired in 2003 for allegedly “not completing autopsy reports.” His medical examiner’s license in Florida was later revoked.
Then in a bizarre turn of events, he was arrested in 2012 for “improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license.” Berkland was accused of keeping “preserved human remains in a rented storage unit in Florida.”
The affidavit for the case said that, “The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs. (Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung,”
The organs apparently came from “private autopsies Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle and in Tallahassee.” according to CBS News.
Conspiracy theories have conflated his past crimes with the autopsy report done in the case of Lori Klausutis.
Donald Trump Said in 2017 That Scarborough Should be Fired From MSNBC for Klausutis’ Death
Joe Scarborough has been one of Donald Trump’s biggest critics and the two have publicly butted heads ever since Trump was elected in 2016.
But the relationship wasn’t always contentious. Trump appeared on Morning Joe several times during his campaign in 2015. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Scarborough says the two were friendly until December 2015 when Trump suggested all Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S. “That’s when Mika and I said, ‘I could never vote for him.’”
Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted that the show “just went off the rails. I will beat Hillary easily – she does not want to run against me. I am tuning them out, waste of time.”
Scarborough told Rolling Stone that after one particularly critical show, President Trump “screamed at me after we had lunch, because we were being so hard [on him]. He called me up yelling on the phone and said, ‘I know you, I know all about you. You think you have to be tough on me because I invited you to have lunch at the White House. So you’re trying to prove you can’t be bought.’ I said, ‘Donald, you should have known that a long time ago! We’ve been killing you for a year and a half! You do good things, we’ll compliment you. When you brought in the guys that ran the unions and talked about building the pipeline with American workers, we said, ‘That’s a good move!’ He just hasn’t given us a whole lot of reason to be overly optimistic about the directions he’s going in.”
In a now-infamous and highly criticized tweet from June 2017, President Trump wrote “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
The tweet was one of the few that was criticized by his own party. “Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. Sen. Ben Sasse agreed, saying, “Please just stop. This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”
Then, in August 2017, Trump referenced the Lori Klausutis death, saying “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the “unsolved mystery” that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!” Re-igniting the old conspiracy theory and giving it national attention.
Scarborough’s co-host and fiancé, Mika Brzezinski, responded on Morning Joe, saying: “I’ll speak for Joe and myself here because Joe has stated that responding to President Trump’s tweets are a waste of his time. Today the president crossed another deeply disturbing line. With his attack on Joe this morning, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America advanced a false conspiracy theory to intimidate the press and cause a chilling effect on the 1st Amendment. Joe and I are not intimidated and his bizarre behavior contravenes both the Constitution and basic moral judgment. This is all we are going to be saying on the matter. We continue to focus on more pressing issues like the nuclear conflict with North Korea. We hope the president will do the same.”
Joe Scarborough was never named in the police report or a suspect in the case. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Scarborough was in Washington at the time of Lori’s death and flew back after learning she had passed away. Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue said at the time that “There was no indication of foul play.”