Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) speaks to reporters in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Wednesday demanded that President Donald Trump halt his stream of baseless accusations against MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, calling them “vile.”
“Enough already,” Romney wrote.
Romney was referring to a series of recent tweets from Trump, in which the president sought to revive an unfounded theory that the former Republican congressman and host of “Morning Joe” was somehow involved in the accidental death of an employee in his congressional office 19 years ago.
According to the coroner, Lori Klausutis, 28, fainted due to an undiagnosed heart condition and hit her head on a desk in 2001. Scarborough was in Washington at the time of her death, which occurred in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach, Florida, district office.
Romney’s willingness to challenge Trump is well documented: During Trump’s impeachment trial in January, Romney was the only Republican senator who voted to convict the president and remove him from office for abusing his power.
Earlier this month, Romney criticized the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying it “was not one that will stand out as being a great moment in American leadership.” Romney added that “when it came to PPE, when it came to testing and just the speed of our response, it looked slow.”
In response to Romney’s critiques, Trump has repeatedly lambasted the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, calling him “a loser” and tweeting insulting videos about him.
Romney is not the only figure on the political right who criticized Trump over his Scarborough attacks. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board called the Trump tweets “a smear.”
“Mr. Trump is debasing his office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so,” declared the typically conservative-leaning editorial board.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., responded to one of Trump’s tweets about Scarborough by writing: “Completely unfounded conspiracy. Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney became the highest-ranking Republican so far to take issue with the tweets, telling reporters at the Capitol, “I do think the president should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough.”
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. He’s the commander in chief of this nation and it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died,” Cheney continued, “so I would urge him to stop it.”
The Wyoming lawmaker serves as the House Republican Conference chair, the third-highest position in House GOP leadership. Like Romney and Kinzinger, Cheney has also shown a willingness in the past to criticize Trump when other Republicans remain silent.
These false accusations against Scarborough are not new. Trump is the latest in a long line of both left-wing and right-wing conspiracy theorists who have disagreed with Scarborough’s politics in the past two decades and sought to damage the former GOP lawmaker by suggesting he had something to do with the tragedy.
That said, the added reach of Trump’s presidential bully pulpit combined with his suggestions that law enforcement authorities investigate Scarborough have effectively resurfaced the conspiracy theory, which until now had largely been relegated to the dustbin of the internet.
The controversy has also added fresh fuel to a debate over social media companies’ responsibility in policing lies, false accusations and other contentious content.
Last week, Timothy Klausutis, Lori Klausutis’ widower, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting the company delete Trump’s tweets referencing his wife’s death.
Twitter did not delete the tweets. Instead a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC on Tuesday: “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family. We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”
Just hours after that statement, Twitter began fact-checking Trump’s posts for the first time ever, and it applied warning labels to two of the president’s recent tweets that made misleading claims about mail-in voting.
“Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” the tags read below two of Trump’s tweets.
Disclosure: MSNBC and CNBC are divisions of NBCUniversal.
— CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Lauren Feiner contributed to this story.