6:33 AM PT -- Carole tells TMZ she does not joke about the loss of her late husband, and says, "it's a stretch" to accuse her of referring to him when she uses the common phrase "killing it."
She states it bluntly -- she didn't kill Don or have him killed, and says she believes he died in a plane crash over the gulf due to his failing mental capacity ... so "there's no way I'd associate losing him with that word or concept."
Carole adds that any 'Tiger King' reference to killing or murder on 'DWTS' "is strictly based on the fact that so many animal abusers have tried unsuccessfully to kill me either by rallying their minions or hiring hitmen."
She says she constantly turns down Cameo requests where people want her to say something unkind about Don, because it's brought so much sadness to her and their families.
This is interesting too -- Carole claims Don was diagnosed as bipolar with altered mental states just 2 months before he went missing and she was the only person who tried to get him help.
Carole Baskin is participating in jokes about Don Lewis' mysterious disappearance while she's on 'DWTS' ... at least according to Don's family, and now they're taking her to court.
Don's daughters Gale, Lynda and Donna, plus his former assistant, Anne McQueen are suing Carole for defamation, and they say Don's disappearance is no laughing matter.
According to new legal docs, obtained by TMZ, Anne claims Carole was complicit with jokes about Don's death on "Dancing with the Stars," when judges brought up TikTok videos inspired by her storyline in 'Tiger King.'
You've probably seen the dance and lyrics, set to Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" ... "Carole Baskin killed her husband, whacked him. Can't convince me that it didn't happen. Fed him to tigers, they snackin'. What's happening?"
In the docs, Don's former assistant says Carole should have spoken out against the jokes ... and she also says Carole should have put her foot down when a 'DWTS' judge said she "didn't quite kill the paso double, it was kind of sedated." Anne takes umbrage with the use of "kill" and "sedated."
Don's family is not only accusing Carole of being complicit with the Don quips on 'DWTS,' but also going along with the joke in an interview with "Good Morning America" when she promised to "really kill it next week" ... according to the suit.
Don's family attorney, John Phillips,says Carole and Anne went down this road back in 1998, when Carole settled a libel and slander from Anne for $50,000. The problem, they claim, is that Carole is now repeating some of those false statements on 'DWTS,' and while reading her journals on social media.
We reached out to Carole, who's always maintained her innocence in Don's case ... but so far, no word back.