Former president Donald Trump began broadcasting widely-discredited conspiracy theories about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough after being prompted by documents given to him by Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, according to former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin.
In a transcript of a deposition Ms Griffin gave before the House January 6 select committee, Ms Griffin revealed the origins of Mr Trump’s promotion of the debunked claims — which posit that Scarborough, who represented the Florida congressional district now represented by Mr Gaetz from 1995 to 2001, was responsible for the death of an aide who worked in his Fort Walton Beach, Florida district office.
Ms Griffin was describing the chaos of Mr Trump’s freewheeling West Wing when she told committee investigators of the incident involving Mr Gaetz, who she said she encountered as he and Ohio Representative Jim Jordan waited to visit with Mr Trump in the Oval Office.
“And I'm waiting outside of the Outer Oval with Gaetz and Jordan ... And Jim and I are just shooting - - shooting the crap. He was an old boss of mine. And Gaetz has this folder. And I said, you know, what is that?” she said.
Ms Griffin recalled that the folder contained “conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough murdering his intern” and said she tried to keep Mr Gaetz from bringing the documents into the meeting, but was unsuccessful.
“And I said, Please do not bring that into the West Wing -- or to the Oval Office. We were literally outside of the Outer Oval. And just - - as I'm saying that - - I said, You cannot put that in front of the President, he - - he gets ushered in. And sure enough, within - - by the next morning, the former President is tweeting wild conspiracy theories about a cable news host, you know, allegedly murdering his intern,” she said.
The aide, Lori Klausutis, who was not an intern, was found to have died in July 2001 from a head injury sustained when she fainted from an undiagnosed heart condition. Critics of Scarborough, including liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and blogger Markos Moulitsas, intimated at the time that the Florida Republican had murdered the young woman.
Two decades later, Mr Trump revived those long-discredited claims in a series of tweets attacking Scarborough, who despite his extremely conservative record in Congress has become a strident critic of his former party and the ex-president.
In one missive, Mr Trump claimed there was “a lot of interest” in the story and suggested the aide was “a young marathon runner” who “just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, [and] die”.
He added: “I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator?”
In another tweet, Mr Trump claimed the matter was a “big topic of discussion in Florida” and urged his followers to “keep digging”. He later asked: “Did he [Scarborough] get away with murder?”
Scarborough, who was 900 miles away in Washington when Klausutis died, sharply criticised Mr Trump for reviving the story. Speaking on his MSNBC programme at the time, he suggested that Mr Trump “take a rest” and “get checked out”.
“Maybe let Mike Pence run things for the next week. You are not well. …It would be best for you politically. It would be best for the country medically. It would be best for the Republican Party politically,” he said.