US president Donald Trump used his Twitter account to promote a discredited murder conspiracy theory about a well-known TV host, as the social media company declined a request from the widower of the deceased woman to remove the posts.
On Tuesday Mr Trump revived speculation about what he termed a “cold case” involving former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, now a popular breakfast TV host on MSNBC. Mr Trump was referring to the death of a congressional aide to Mr Scarborough in 2001. Lori Klausutis, then 28, died when she collapsed in Mr Scarborough’s office due to a heart condition.
Mr Trump, who first promulgated the theory in 2017, has returned to the topic over the past 10 days, claiming there are “many unanswered and obvious questions”, and naming Mr Scarborough “Psycho Joe”.
Morning Joe, Mr Scarborough’s TV programme with his wife, Mika Brzezinski, is a popular breakfast show for political watchers that regularly holds the president to account.
Ms Klausutis’s widower wrote to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey asking the company to take down the posts but the company declined.
According to the New York Times, Mr Klausutis pleaded with Twitter to intervene, noting that Mr Trump’s eldest son had also used Twitter “as the means of spreading this vicious lie”.
“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.”
But Twitter said that the posts did not violate its terms of service. The company has faced calls before to remove content posted by Mr Trump, arguably the platform’s highest-profile user, who uses his primary social media account to push his political agenda.
Mr Trump spent much of Memorial Day weekend – traditionally a time when Americans honour their war dead – retweeting several negative posts about female politicians and Joe Biden, his likely election rival in November.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Delaware. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty
Mr Biden made his first public appearance since March on Monday at a wreath-laying ceremony to honour military veterans. The former vice-president and his wife, Jill, wore masks, unlike Mr Trump, who was not wearing a face covering during Memorial Day visits to Arlington Cemetery and Baltimore.
As Mr Trump prepared to visit Florida on Wednesday – his latest visit to an electorally important state – he restated his claim that postal voting could lead to a “rigged election”.
“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” he tweeted, referring to California’s decision to send postal ballots to voters.
He stated that all voters would receive a ballot “no matter who they are or how they got there”, and claimed this will be followed “with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!”
Mr Trump has railed against voting by mail, erroneously asserting that it is linked to increased fraud. The issue is particularly relevant in this election year as more states expand postal voting provisions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, several states have offered to host the Republican National Convention in August after Mr Trump threatened to change the location of the party’s marquee meeting unless the governor of North Carolina could “guarantee” it would take place in Charlotte as planned, despite the pandemic.
Florida and Georgia – states run by Republican governors – have offered to host the convention, where Mr Trump will officially be selected as the party’s presidential nominee.