Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael B. Cruz, of being alongside John F. Kennedy’s assassin several months before he shot the president, channeling a National Enquirer story that the Cruz campaign has denounced as false.
Speaking to Fox News Tuesday morning by phone, Trump said Cruz’s father “was with Lee Harvey Oswald” prior to Kennedy being shot.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said. “What is this? Right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
As the anchor mentioned the photo that allegedly included Cruz, Trump continued: “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible.”
The National Enquirer last month published what it said was conclusive evidence that Cruz’s father was the man photographed next to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, distributing pro-Fidel Castro literature in New Orleans.
The Cruz presidential campaign fired back unequivocally. “This is another garbage story in a tabloid full of garbage,” communications director Alice Stewart told McClatchy. “The story is false; that is not Rafael in the picture.”
“It's embarrassing that anyone would enable Trump to discuss this. It's a garbage story and clearly Donald wants to talk about garbage. Ted Cruz will do what he's been doing, talking about jobs, freedom, and security for the American people,” said Stewart in a statement.
At a campaign event in Indiana, Cruz told the press, "Yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard."
Trump responded in kind. “Ted Cruz is a desperate candidate trying to save his failing campaign. It is no surprise he has resorted to his usual tactics of over-the-top rhetoric that nobody believes,” he said in a statement.
The explosive suggestion that Cruz’s father would have had any affiliation with Oswald is not corroborated in any other way. Cuban-born Rafael Cruz is now a fervent anti-communist, but there was a time he supported then-rebel leader Fidel Castro. His son, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, frequently relates his father’s arrest and torture by government officials and subsequent escape to the United States.
The elder Cruz ended up at the University of Texas at Austin and still supported Castro, who led the revolution that overthrew the Batista regime in 1959. Castro formally declared himself Marxist in 1961.
“The U.S. government was duped. The American people were duped. I was duped,” Rafael Cruz wrote in his book, “A Time for Action,” released in January. “When people ask me why I supported Castro in over-throwing the Cuban government, I readily admit that I didn’t realize he was a communist.”
There are photos of Rafael Cruz participating in a pro-Castro rally in 1959 and an article in the student newspaper where he describes his support for Castro. And one report questions the extent of the elder Cruz’s connections to Castro before fleeing Cuba.
The photos of Oswald distributing pro-Castro literature are from August 1963, just a few months before the JFK assassination in Dallas, which the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy said was carried out by Oswald.
The tabloid hired photo experts who compared the elder Cruz’s photos from the late 1950s and early 1960s with the ones released by the Warren Commission. The man in the white shirt next to Oswald was never identified by the commission, and the Enquirer is now saying it was Cruz and blasted on its May 2 cover that “Ted Cruz Father Now Linked to JFK Assassination!”
The Enquirer has a testimonial from Mitch Goldstone, president and CEO of ScanMyPhotos, a California-based digitizing photo service, who told the tabloid, “There’s more similarity than dissimilarity. . . . it looks to be the same person and I can say as much with a high degree of confidence.”
And Carole Lieberman, a University of California - Los Angeles forensic psychiatrist and expert witness based in Beverly Hills, California, compared the photos and told the Enquirer “they seem to match.” Neither Goldstone nor Lieberman returned phone calls from McClatchy.
But Gus Russo, an author and journalist who has written extensively about the JFK assassination and Oswald, is dubious. Russo told McClatchy in an interview that Oswald, who was living in New Orleans in 1963, was not connected to the Cuban community there and would not have had a Cuban supporter helping him. “He was the ultimate loner,” said Russo. Another man seen in the video handing out leaflets had been hired by Oswald to do so at an unemployment office, according to the Warren Commission. Rafael Cruz also lived in New Orleans, but it was later in the 1960s.
As for the photo “evidence,” Russo said, “It’s very subjective. It’s not proof. It’s just an opinion. To charge something this big, you’d better have better proof than that ‘it looks like him.’”
The FBI would not comment about its photo recognition and aging identification techniques but referred McClatchy to a web page about its Investigative and Prosecutive Graphic Unit.
The Enquirer has focused on Ted Cruz during the presidential campaign with sensational stories about his alleged mistresses and supposed connection to the DC Madam. The tabloid, which has endorsed presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, said in a “declaration” published on a page of the story that the paper had been approached by someone it does not identify during the New York primary with the photos. “In this instance, we believe American voters have a right to know the truth about the Cruz family,” it says.
This story was last updated May 3, 2016.
Lesley Clark contributed to this report.