Lori Klausutis was working in the Florida office of MSNBC host and then-Congressman Joe Scarborough when she died young and suddenly in 2001. Contrary to recent tweets by President Donald Trump casting suspicion over her death, at the time it was ruled an accidental fall provoked by cardiac arrhythmia.
Trump, who has feuded with Scarborough for some time, has repeatedly raised conspiracy theories about Klausutis’ death. Over the years, conspiracy theories have been fueled by people on both the right and the left. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy has a checkered past, also fueling the conspiracy theories.
“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!” Trump wrote, sharing a story that made unproven accusations about Klausutis’ death.
The president has tweeted a number of times about the death. “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!” read one of his tweets.
Scarborough once served as a U.S. Congressman in Florida’s 1st district. He held the spot from 1995 until 2001, when he unexpectedly resigned five months into his fourth term. He said that he wanted to spend more time with his children.
Klausutis’ widower Timothy has now written a letter to Twitter’s head, Jack Dorsey, asking him to delete Trump’s tweets. “These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage,” he wrote. He indicated that his 28-year-old wife “had an undiagnosed heart condition” and wrote that the president had taken the memory of his dead wife and “perverted it for perceived political gain…my wife deserves better.”
Scarborough’s wife, Mika Brzezinski, has responded by criticizing Trump, reaching out to Twitter’s head and accusing the president of libel. “I will be reaching out to head of twitter about their policies being violated every day by President Trump. Hope my call is taken. Please retweet if you agree,” she wrote.
Trump has tweeted about the case before.
What really happened to Lori Klausutis? What was her cause of death?
See the obituary and grave of Klausutis here.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Klausutis Was Found Dead Inside Scarborough’s Florida Office Near a Desk
A July 21, 2001, report by the Naples Daily News explained the details of Klausutis’ death. Her body was found July 20 around 8 a.m. by a couple who arrived at the office in Fort Walton Beach for an appointment. She was found slumped over next to a desk on the floor of Scarborough’s office. A second employee who was normally at the office was away on vacation, and it was determined that she had been dead for some time.
After an investigation, police said there was no reason to suspect foul play in her death, and a preliminary investigation revealed there was “no outward indication of suicide.”
Police said there were no witnesses to her death, and the cause wasn’t immediately apparent. It was later determined to be an accidental death, with a cardiac arrhythmia causing her to fall and hit her head on a desk, leading to her death.
Scarborough, who was out of the office at the time, released a statement following her death:
“My staff and family are greatly saddened by the loss of Lori Klausutis,” the statement said. “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.”
Scarborough was in Washington, D.C., at the time, and he arrived back in Florida the same day her body was discovered.
A July 21, 2001, article in the Tampa Bay Times reported that a “28-year-old office worker for U.S. Rep Joe Scarborough was found dead early Friday in the congressman’s district office.”
According to the article, available through the Newspapers.com historical archive, the Fort Walton Beach police said immediately that there were “no signs of foul play.”
They said that Klausutis, who had worked for Scarborough since 1999, was found lying on the floor behind a desk by a couple showing up for an appointment. She worked in a two-person office but “she was the only one working Thursday.” The article indicated someone talked to her late Thursday and police said she probably died before 5 p.m.
Scarborough had said the month before the death that he was going to resign to spend time with his sons. He was in “Washington on Friday morning tending to House business when Klausutis’ death was reported,” the article reported.
2. A Controversial Associate Medical Examiner Said Klausutis Suffered a ‘Hairline Skull Fracture’ but Insisted She ‘Wasn’t Whacked in the Head’
According to an August 30, 2001, article in the Tallahassee Democrat, the doctor who performed an autopsy on Klausutis found that she suffered a “hairline skull fracture” that was “consistent with an accidental fall, not homicide.”
Dr. Michael Berkland was the associate district medical examiner. “She hit her head on a desk when she fell after suffering an abnormal heart rhythm,” the newspaper reported.
“We know for a fact she wasn’t whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury,” Berkland told the newspaper.
He said her heart stopped beating because of the “abnormal rhythm,” which stopped her breathing. That might have killed her, but the head injury contributed “because blood pooled at the point where the fracture occurred,” Berkman told the newspaper. She had reported not feeling well to another aide.
The article also says the owner of a security company admitted he “may have failed to check that night whether doors were locked.” A restaurant employee saw lights on in the building and Klausutis’ car parked outside three hours before her death was discovered, according to the newspaper.
According to the Washington Post, Berkland wrote with his findings that Klausutis “died as a result of an acute subdural hematoma which occurred as a result of a closed head trauma sustained in a simple fall.” The Post noted that he said she had made no attempt to break her fall, according to an examination of her hands, and that she suffered from a “floppy mitral valve” in her heart.
However, Berkland has a checkered past. He was “charged with stealing some of the more than 100 body parts found in August in a storage unit he rented” in 2012, according to NWF Daily News.
He lost his Florida job in 2003 for “being slow to complete autopsy reports.” CBS News reported, “Before arriving Florida, 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 there.”
3. Klausutis Was Active With Her Faith & Once Worked for a Young Republicans Group
Klausutis was originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and had a seemingly “happy life,” the Naples Daily News wrote. She was married to husband Timothy, who said on an internet account that “being married to Lori” was one of his highest honors. The couple shared a home in Niceville, a city on Florida’s panhandle about 150 miles west of Tallahassee. She was active in her religion, the article noted, volunteering as a cantor at a Catholic congregation in the area, singing in the church choir and being involved in other faith-based activities.
Klausutis’ obituary says she went to school in the Atlanta area and served as the president and treasurer for the Emerald Coast Young Republicans. She later worked as Scarborough’s constituent services coordinator starting in May 1999. She lived an active life in her community, neighbors told the Naples Daily News.
“Every morning, I would see her run while I walked,” neighbor Barbara Cromer said of Klausutis to the newspaper. “We’d wave to each other as we passed. I loved Lori so much. She was wonderful. She was a kind, generous person, so sweet.”
In the investigation into her death, there was disagreement about whether or not she suffered medical problems. Scarborough’s press secretary at the time mentioned that she had health issues but didn’t reveal anything else.
Police also commented on her medical history, with Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue being quoted as saying at the time: “That’s part of our investigation, checking into her medical history.” Berkland also commented on her potential health history.
“She had a past medical history that was significant,” Berkland said to the newspaper. “But it remains to be seen whether that played a role in her death.”
Klausutis’ family rejected the notion that she suffered from medical issues, citing her athleticism and hobby of running as indications. They also refuted media reports at the time that speculated she died by suicide.
Berkland ordered subsequent toxicology reports to be performed in the weeks that followed her death. His office’s initial reports indicated there weren’t any signs of trauma to her body, and Berkland later said that she was found with a “scratch and a bruise” on her head. He told media members that his initial denials of the cause of death were so speculation wouldn’t be raised.
“The last thing we wanted was 40 questions about a head injury,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
4. Klausutis’ Widower Held a Job With the Air Force
Klausutis’ widower, Timothy, was left distraught by his wife’s death. Her obituary revealed that Timothy once served as a prominent member of the United States Air Force. He’s a Florida native, graduating from Choctawhatchee Senior High School, and a LinkedIn account indicates that he studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology. A thesis written by him says that he graduated in 2002.
Timothy’s thesis at the college was titled: “Adaptive lapped transforms with applications to image coding.” A 2012 blog post by Roger Shuler stated that Timothy studied navigation and miniature weapons systems for the Air Force Research Lab.
For his part, Joe Scarborough has been married three times.
Before Brzezinski, Scarborough was married to Melanie Hinton and Susan Waren. He has two children from each marriage. They both ended in divorce. Scarborough and Hinton were married from 1986 to 1999. He was married to Waren from 2001 to 2013.
Scarborough told Vanity Fair in a letter in 2005: “Here are the facts. (1) Lori worked in my annex office in Okaloosa County, Florida. (2) I met her no more than three times; I was never alone with her. (3) I didn’t leave Congress because of her death; I announced my retirement from Congress in May 2001 — she passed away several months later.”
5. Klausutis’ Other Family Didn’t Want to Speak Out Because of Fear of Online Trolls
According to a May 2020 article in the Washington Post, the family of Klausutis didn’t want to comment on the president’s tweets, “fearing retaliation by online trolls of the type who went after parents of the Sandy Hook massacre victims.”
“There’s a lot we would love to say, but we can’t,” said Colin Kelly, Klausutis’s brother-in-law, to The Post. The Post noted that Klausutis was not an intern and was not pregnant at the time of her death, debunking other conspiracy theories. The Post also reported that she wasn’t a marathon runner.
Klausutis’s father-in-law, Norm, wrote a letter to the editor, according to the Post, years ago: “Losing Lori was the most painful event in my life of 62 years. It was far more painful for her husband. . . . She was extremely happy with her life, job and family. For those who knew Lori, the thought of suicide, as your published reports suggested, is absolutely unthinkable.”
Scarborough has weathered attacks from right and left over the years relating to the death.
The founder of the Daily Kos blog, Markos Moulitsas, appeared as a guest regularly on MSNBC. He frequently appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show and sparred with Republicans. However, that relationship came to an end in July 2010, when MSNBC severed its ties with Moulitsas. That’s because he mentioned Klausutis’ story on Twitter, and Scarborough took extreme offense to it.
It started with Moulitsas taking note of Scarborough’s plea for people to pay attention to a scandal. Moulitsas got into a back-and-forth with Scarborough on the social media platform in the following exchange of tweets:
Moulitsas: Like story of a certain dead intern. RT @JoeNBC: Luckily for the White House, the media has been negligent on this story since Day 1.
Moulitsas: But if you want to talk about bullshit “scandals”, @JoeNBC, there’s this one about Joe Sestak and the White House you might’ve heard of.
Scarborough: @markos Unbelievable. You have a long history of spreading lies suggesting I am a murderer. This is the 3rd or 4th time by my count.
Moulitsas: @JoeNBC, I’ve never suggested you’re a murderer. I’ve noted media hypocrisy in going after Gary Condit. But he was Dem. You aren’t.
Scarborough: Anyone in media who interviews @markos, know that you’re extending your credibility to someone who regularly suggests that I’m a murderer.
Moulitsas: A bit touchy, @JoeNBC? Links for where I accuse you of being a murderer please.
“I never accused him of murder, much less three or four times,” Moulitsas wrote in a blog post regarding the incident. “In fact, we had just had a pleasant chat in the Meet the Press green room in December, which wouldn’t be the case if I was bedeviling him with accusations of murder. The only time I ever mentioned the incident was this post in 2005, in which I discussed him as a potential Senate candidate.”
MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a news release that Moulitsas was banned from appearing on the network.