Joe Scarborough can sue for defamation — and ‘it could require Trump to pay substantial punitive damages’: Legal expert

Joe Scarborough can sue for defamation — and ‘it could require Trump to pay substantial punitive damages’: Legal expert
Photo via NBC News.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough may have a defamation case against President Donald Trump, according to one legal expert.


Peter Schuck, an emeritus professor of law at Yale and visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, laid out the case against the president in a new column for the New York Times.

“Trump’s wantonly cruel tweets about the tragic death in 2001 of Lori Klausutis are distinctive,” Schuck writes. “They may constitute intentional torts for which a civil jury could award punitive damages against him.”

The president has not offered any evidence that Scarborough, who was in Washington at the time, was involved in the death of his 28-year-old congressional staffer, who died from a blow to the head after an undiagnosed heart condition caused her to pass out, according to an autopsy.

“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 writes. “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 Dorsey.”

The president’s tweets targeted the “Morning Joe” host, but Schuck argued that Klausutis’s widower had a stronger emotional distress claim than Scarborough — who may be able to win a defamation suit.

“Even so, Mr. Scarborough might succeed in a defamation suit against Mr. Trump for reputational harm,” Schuck argued. “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,” he added.

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