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CNN NEWSROOM

Widower: Trump Perverting "Memory Of My Dead Wife" For Political Gain With Baseless Murder Conspiracy; Broadway League President: Hopeful For January Return; White Woman Called Police On Black Man Has Been Fired; Yusef Salaam Discusses Woman Calling Police On Black Man Asking Her To Put Dog On Leash. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:34:40]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Twitter has rejected a plea from a widower to remove President Trump's tasteless tweets about his late wife and a baseless conspiracy theory insinuating that MSNBC's Joe Scarborough is responsible for her death.

His wife, Lori Klausutis, died of a heart condition in 2001 while working in Scarborough's Florida district office when he was a congressman.

We're going to read the letter that was sent by Timothy J. Klausutis to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in its entirety. Here's what it says:

[14:35:09]

"Mr. Dorsey, nearly 19 years ago, my wife had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning."

"Her name is Lori Kay Klausutis and she was 28 years old when she died. Her passing is the single-most painful thing I've ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister. 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 life. There has been a consistent barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, inuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died" I realize that sound like an exaggeration. Unfortunately, it is the verifiable truth."

"Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life. The frequency, intensity, ugliness and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the Internet."

"These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the president of the United States, continue to spread their vile and misinformation on your platform, disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage." "President Trump on Tuesday tweeted to his nearly 80 million

followers, alluding to a repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough. The president followed and more directly attacked my wife by tweeting to his followers as the means of spreading this vicious lie."

"My request is simple: Please delete these tweets."

"I'm a research engineer, not a lawyer, but I have reviewed all of Twitter's rules and terms of service. The president's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered without evidence and contrary to the official autopsy is a violation of Twitter's community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banish from the platform for such a tweet, but I am only asking that the tweets be removed."

"I am now angry as well as frustrated and aggrieved. I understand that Twitter's policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean. You provide the platform and the rest is up to users. However, in certain past cases, Twitter has removed content in accounts that are inconsistent with your terms of service."

"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."

"I would also ask that you consider Lori's niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in their future. They have never met their aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to learn about her this way. My wife deserves better."

I'm joined now by CNN's chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, Twitter says it's deeply sorry about the pain, that they're working on how to figure out how to handle situations like this. I wonder if there's any legal recourse that this man has.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think, frankly, it's unlikely that he has any ability to sue Twitter or even the president.

But you know, Twitter is a private company. They have rules. Like Greyhound buses have rules. You can't stay on a greyhound bus if you break the rules.

President Trump has broken the rules of Twitter over and over again, and Twitter has done nothing but put out statements of corporate gibberish like the one it did today.

They either have rules where -- I went and reviewed them today. Targeted harassment. This is precisely targeted harassment at Joe Scarborough, and certainly the memory of Mrs. Klausutis.

So all Twitter should do is follow its own rules and take these tweets down. KEILAR: So there's no recourse for a civil suit or something like that, that --

TOOBIN: No.

KEILAR: -- that Lori's husband would have?

TOOBIN: You know, I don't see it. The libel laws are very strict in terms of whether you can recover for libel. Even though his wife is not a public figure, if you read the tweets, they don't specifically say anything about her that I think a court would find as libelous.

But I do think that this is a -- it's a violation of Twitter's own rules. Twitter is just afraid of both the president and right-wing trolls who follow him. That's why they're not doing what they should be doing, which is taking this tweet down.

KEILAR: So I want to ask you now, not the legal question, but the human being question. There's two elements to this. Joe Scarborough being accused of murder, which didn't happen. And -- you can see how infuriating it is, and just the insinuation and the direct allegation of that, how that would affect him.

[14:40:12]

And then, on the other hand, you have this window from this letter into Lori Klausutis's husband's heart, which he kind of shows us. I wonder -- I think we can take him at face value for the pain his and his family are feeling.

What do you think about the president's behavior?

TOOBIN: First of all, Joe Scarborough is the one who might have a libel suit here. Because -- he's a public figure and there's a higher standard. But an accusation, a knowing falsehood of murder, would, I think, form the basis for a legitimate lawsuit.

Now, I'm sure Joe Scarborough doesn't want to get involved in this, doesn't want to prolong this controversy. But he is the one that might have a valid legal claim.

As for Mr. Klausutis, this is, as you point out, a story about an innocent human being and the memory of an innocent human being.

If Twitter had any decency, any corporate conscience, they would take it down automatically because it serves no public purpose. It is not consistent with the values that Twitter supposedly embodies.

The license to be on Twitter is not a license to say anything. You know, I've spent some time on the Twitter guidelines this morning to try to figure out what the rules are. They're enormously complicated and hard to follow.

But it is certainly clear that accusing people falsely of murder is not something Twitter exists to propagate. So I just think Twitter's position here is totally indefensible. KEILAR: They're clearly afraid of the president, maybe with good

reason, but it's stunning to see.

Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.

Next, when will Broadway be back? One industry insider says she's hopeful for January.

Plus, the crisis in Brazil is getting worse as the country's president dismisses the virus as the "little flu."

As Italy looks to recruit 60,000 volunteers to do contact tracing.

You're watching CNN's live special coverage.

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[14:46:37]

KEILAR: New York's Broadway was one of the first entertainment venues to shut down amid the pandemic. Now the theater league's president is hoping for a January reopening with a few changes.

Here's CNN's Entertainment Reporter, Chloe Melas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Brianna, a glimmer of hope for New York's Broadway theaters. The president of the Broadway league, Charlotte St. Martin, says, in a new interview with the "Daily Beast," that she believes the Great White Way could reopen in January but it won't be the same.

St. Martin says audiences should expect to wear masks, go through temperature checks and strict rules on how to enter and exit the theater.

Broadway shut down on March 12th. And St. Martins says, if Broadway remains closed until January, the losses could be upwards of $1.5 billion. The safety of audiences and cast and crew members are the priority -- Brianna?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Chloe, thanks for the report.

Former Vice President Joe Biden sits down with Dana Bash today on "THE SITUATION ROOM." He's going to weigh in on coronavirus, the politicization of masks, and what he is looking for in a running mate. We'll have that live at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

A white woman is now insisting she is not a racist after she called police and claimed an African-American man was threatening her life in Central Park. The video of it all, which has gone viral, seems to suggest otherwise. You're going to see this for yourself. And also a big development involving her, just in. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:52:28]

KEILAR: A white woman disobeying a leash law in New York's Central Park has apologized after calling police on a black man asking her to put her dog on a leash. The man said he was bird watching in Central Park, as many people do in the area where he was, when he began recording this confrontation. And this is what happened next.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you please stop. Sir, I'm asking you to stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please don't come close to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking you to stop recording.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please don't come close to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please take the phone off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't come close to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to call the cops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please call the cops. Please call the cops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to tell them there's an African- American man threatening my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please tell them whatever you like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here's a man -- he's a black man -- he's recording me and threatened my dog.

I'm being threatened by a man. Please send the cops immediately!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So the woman said that she was scared when the man offered her dog a treat. She said what she did is not excusable or defensible. But we've learned in the last few minutes she's been fired from her job because of this.

Joining me now to talk about this is Yusef Salaam. He is one of the "Exonerated Five" in the Central Park jogger case. He was falsely accused of an assault in Central Park in 1989. And he wrote a novel about a boy being wrongfully incarcerated called "Punching the Air."

Yusef, I wonder what you think as you watched this video.

YUSEF SALAAM, MEMBER OF CENTRAL PARK "EXONERATED FIVE" & AUTHOR: It's one of the most-scariest feelings in the world being in a place where you're supposed to be treated as an equal but you know that that is not the situation.

Spikes of justice ran over me 31 years ago and here we are seeing a situation where an individual is pleading to have the cops be called and, all of a sudden, the cops are called and the story is changing.

And a lot of times when the police officers show up, unfortunately, when a person is crying and they look like they -- they look like her, we end up dying.

KEILAR: She makes -- and you hear her there. I think this is the thing that people heard when they watched this video is she's making a point repeatedly to highlight that he is an African-American man, that he is threatening her life when clearly he is not.

She actually said she was scared and yet she's moving closer to him, right, when she said she doesn't want to be recorded. And then seems to heighten her emotions on the phone purposely as she's quite a distance from him.

[14:55:10]

SALAAM: Yes.

KEILAR: What did you think about that?

SALAAM: That's the part that was troubling. Because you want -- when you look at the law, the law says you're innocent until proven guilty. And here it is a person making a public outcry, but before they get on the phone and say I'm going to tell them your African-American and tell them this and that, and he's like please call them. He knows he's not doing anything wrong.

To his benefit, there was a video that went viral and things happened after that were more in his favor as opposed to police showing up and threatening his life because someone made an accusation that he was menacing and brutalizing, and all of that stuff didn't happen, you know. It's terrible.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, Yusef, in the course of the last couple of days, we've covered this story, we've covered the story of a man who died after police put him in a hold with a knee to the neck. Yesterday, I spoke with an African-American journalist who covered the Kentucky governor being hung in effigy with people doing it who didn't seem to understand why that was problematic.

And I just wonder what that says to you after all of these decades about where the country is.

SALAAM: We are in a very dangerous place in this country. America, for many of us who look like me, has always represented a place where we have been unequally and unfairly treated. We've been the ones that have been -- after they stopped slavery, they said, hey, they started the new Jim Crow laws.

And we look at the prison industrial complex now, the overwhelming majority of people that are there are people of color. And the worst part about it is you couple that with things that we're

seeing now, the accusations, the false accusations. The fact that, all throughout the south, you had a lot of young men, black men, people of color, being hung by trees because of an accusation. You had Emmett Till pulled from his home and beaten to death and shot in the head and a cotton gin tied around his neck because of an accusation. All of these things keep happening.

I wonder when we'll we ever be able to be afforded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else in America.

KEILAR: I think a lot of people are wondering that.

Yusef, thank you so much for speaking to us today. We really appreciate it, Yusef Salaam.

SALAAM: Thank you. My pleasure.

KEILAR: Just in, another pharmaceutical giant has entered the vaccine race with two potential vaccines.

Also, the president mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask, which, of course, is the president's own guidance.

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[15:00:04]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. You're watching CNN continuing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.