One is a politician so obsessed with a morning cable news show that he has sought retribution by repeatedly defaming a dead woman’s memory.
The other is a soft-spoken Air Force engineer who has worked on projects for 32 years with the singular goal of protecting and defending the United States. The 6-foot-3 Florida resident is still mourning the death of a wife he lost 19 years ago. He holds on to cherished memories of Lori Klausutis as a lifelong Republican, a devoted Catholic who sang in her church choir and an avid runner so perpetually cheerful that people called her “Little Miss Mary Sunshine.” After Lori’s death, T.J. Klausutis returned alone to the home the couple had just bought in Niceville, Florida, and faced an almost immediate barrage of internet conspiracy theories about the “murder” of his wife.
The pace of those hateful lies ebbed and flowed with the years, until they swelled recently into a slimy tsunami of bilge spewing from President Donald Trump’s 80-million-strong Twitter feed. I have never been able to grasp Trump’s bizarre fixation with “Morning Joe,” but that sad obsession has driven him to weaponize Lori’s memory in an attempt to settle some perceived grievance against me. Or perhaps to deflect from the 100,000 Americans lost to a disease he once dismissed as “one person coming in from China.”
I have been a public figure for more than 25 years, so I pay little attention to public lies. T.J. and Lori’s family, however, are innocents in this. To have the commander in chief torment a patriot like T.J. is disgusting, but sadly, not surprising. Despite the pain he endured from discredited websites and Twitter accounts, T.J. kept his peace for nearly two decades, until the most powerful man on Earth began slandering his wife’s good name.
Perhaps knowing that a plea to Donald Trump would fall on deaf ears, T.J. reached out to the only man who had the power to protect his deceased wife’s reputation by reining in daily attacks from the president. In a heartbreaking letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, Lori’s widower wrote:
“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life.”
As is T.J.’s style, he was not trying to garner attention. For him, it was a private letter to help deal with his private grief and anguish. T.J. didn’t want this to become a public spectacle. All he asked Twitter to do for the wife he still mourns was the same it has done so many times before: remove abusive tweets.
“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.”
After Lori’s passing, T.J. told me that she had left her job in a bank to work in our Okaloosa County congressional office because she wanted to give back to the country she loved so much. There is no better place to do that than in a district office, helping constituents deal with the federal government.
I believe Lori’s selfless vision of America will prove stronger than Trump’s. Lori entered public service to help others; Trump has demonstrated time and again that he holds his position to gain praise and hoard media attention, even if it shatters a family and slanders a good woman in the process.
“My wife deserves better,” T.J. wrote to Dorsey. So, too, does the nation T.J. Klausutis proudly serves.
Joe Scarborough is an American cable news host, and former congressman from Florida.
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