CLEVELAND — Donald Trump on Friday revived an unsubstantiated accusation that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father met with the man who killed president John F. Kennedy, swiftly casting aside the uncharacteristically restrained persona on display when he accepted the GOP presidential nomination one night before.
The celebrity mogul set about — unprompted — to refute charges put forward by Cruz earlier in the week that he had attacked the senator’s wife and father, Heidi and Rafael, during the GOP primary. Regarding the accusations against Rafael Cruz, Trump said that he had merely referred to a story in the National Enquirer, whose credibility he commended.
“All I did was point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer were was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast,” Trump said, referring to the man who shot Kennedy.
Trump spent much of his first news conference since accepting the nomination re-litigating his primary fight with Cruz, of Texas, whose bitter refusal to endorse the celebrity mogul this week cast doubts on the party’s attempts to unify before the general election. It was an abrupt return to form for the GOP nominee, who had delivered a lengthy and disciplined speech from prepared remarks at the convention but was unscripted and more free-wheeling Friday.
The episode showcased how Trump has struggled to move beyond the hard-fought primary, dwelling on those fights even as his campaign prepares for a general election fight against Democrat Hillary Clinton. He still regularly boasts about his victories on the campaign trail and occasional falls back into mocking his vanquished rivals.
“I’m saying just to clear this up,” Trump told reporters and supporters in attendance Friday. “I didn’t do anything.”
“I just had to clear it up, I think I’m doing the right thing in doing it, but I had to do it,” he said.
The Oswald controversy first emerged earlier this year when Trump pointed to a sensationalized National Enquirer story suggesting that Cruz’s father may have been involved with Oswald. Trump raised questions about the story at the time.
“Nobody even brings it up. I mean, they don’t even talk about that,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News in May. “I mean, what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It’s horrible.”
On Friday, he instead blasted the media for writing about his comments at all: “The press takes that, and they say, ‘Donald Trump and his conspiracy theories; he went out and said his father was with Lee Harvey Oswald, and he assassinated the president.’ What did I do? … There was a picture, and that’s the only thing I know.”
Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary on Friday, Cruz and his campaign did in fact deny that the photo was of his father. Cruz’s communications director, Alice Stewart, told the Miami Herald, “The story is false; that is not Rafael in the picture.” The allegation that Rafael Cruz was in the picture with Oswald has been widely debunked by fact checkers.
The Cruz campaign did not comment for this story. When spotted Friday afternoon at Reagan National Airport in Washington, the Texas senator said he was aware of the recent comments but demurred. “Just call our press office,” he said.
Trump defended himself during his remarks against charges that he had peddled a conspiracy theory linking Cruz’s father to the assassination, insisting that he did not himself claim and direct association. He said that he had “nothing to do with it” and added that the National Enquirer is “in some ways well respected” and deserved a Pulitzer Prize for exposing former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards’s love affair.
“I know nothing about his father, I know nothing about Lee Harvey Oswald. But there was a picture on the front page of the National Enquirer, which does have credibility,” Trump said.
Trump added that he thinks Rafael is “a lovely guy.”
The real estate mogul also revisited a personal attack against Cruz’s wife, Heidi that he helped circulate on Twitter earlier this year when he retweeted an unflattering image of her along with the caption, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
“They sent out the first picture. Please remember that,” Trump responded Friday during the news conference.
He went on to accuse Cruz of being behind an attack ad targeting Melania Trump that was distributed online by a pro-Cruz super PAC. The ad featured a risque picture of Melania, who was a professional model, along with the caption, “Meet Melania Trump. Your next first lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” The Cruz campaign disavowed the ad at the time and denied any connection to it.
In addition to circulating the unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz online, Trump also threatened to “spill the beans on your wife!” in retaliation.
He complimented Heidi Cruz on Friday even as he continued to attack her husband.
“I think Heidi Cruz is a great person. I think it’s the best thing he’s got going, and his kids, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “He’s got good intellect, but he doesn’t know how to use it. And he was a good debater, but he didn’t do well in the debates against me, according to every poll.”