President Donald Trump’s libelous claim against MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may land him in legal peril if Scarborough were to file a defamation lawsuit against him, according to a Yale law school professor.
Trump had repeatedly accused Scarborough of murdering his former congressional staffer Lori Klausutis, who died in 2001 after she passed out due to a heart problem and hit her head on a desk as she fell.
Scarborough had nothing to do with the death because he was in Washington DC at the time casting votes in Congress. The medical examiner and law enforcement both ruled out foul play. In short, the evidence is on Scarborough’s side and Trump has offered zero evidence to back up his accusation. Even conservative publications have turned on him over the smear.
But that accusation, which is well-documented on Twitter, opens Trump up to defamation lawsuits.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Yale law school professor Peter Schuck explained that Scarborough, as well as Klausutis’ widower Timothy, both have a strong case.
“Trump’s wantonly cruel tweets about the tragic death in 2001 of Lori Klausutis are distinctive,” Schuck wrote. “They may constitute intentional torts for which a civil jury could award punitive damages against him.”
“Mr. Trump’s first tort is called intentional infliction of emotional distress, which the courts developed precisely to condemn wanton cruelty to another person who suffers emotionally as a result,” Schuck continued. “This tort, which is sometimes called ‘outrage,’ readily applies to Mr. Trump’s tweets about Ms. Klausutis. They were intentional and reckless, and were ‘extreme and outrageous’ without a scintilla of evidence to support them. And they caused severe emotional distress — the protracted, daily-felt grief described in [Timothy] Klausutis’s letter to [Twitter CEO Jack] Dorsey.”
Indeed, Mr. Klausutis wrote Dorsey asking him to delete Trump’s outrageous tweets, but Twitter has not acted.
Schuck noted that Mr. Klausutis has a stronger case against Trump than Scarborough does, but that doesn’t mean Scarborough doesn’t have a strong enough case to win. And if either case blows up in Trump’s face, he could owe a ton of money to the plaintiffs.
“Even so, Mr. Scarborough might succeed in a defamation suit against Mr. Trump for reputational harm,” Schuck concluded. “After all, the president’s innuendo that Mr. Scarborough may have murdered Lori Klausutis — presumably credible to the many Trump Twitter followers who subscribe to conspiracy theories — may seriously harm Mr. Scarborough’s reputation with them and others. If the jury found for Mr. Scarborough, it could require Mr. Trump to pay substantial punitive damages in addition to compensation for his reputational harm.”
Let’s hope Scarborough and his lawyers have saved each and every tweet to present as evidence.
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