Why JFK Went to Texas

John B. Connally, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson

JFK:  “He* sure seemed anxious for me to go to Texas

* John Connally (ergo, Lyndon Johnson) after Connally’s White House visit six weeks before The Big Event

That was a very odd thing for President Kennedy to say, given that he had invited Texas Governor Connally to the White House for a visit on October 4, 1963 to make plans for the Texas trip that Lyndon Johnson (who had not been invited to attend) had been pressing so hard for. JFK realized that he needed to have Connally’s firm support for the trip, knowing that the Governor had for months resisted the idea of staking his own greater popularity in Texas to that of the president (or, for that matter, of LBJ, whose Texas support had been waning since he left the Senate and was wasting away in the Vice President’s office — and at that moment, was being drawn into the biggest scandal of his career, centered on Senate investigations of his long-time bag-man and multiple fraudster Bobby Baker).

Vice President Johnson, for many months beginning in late 1962, had begun pressing Governor Connally and President Kennedy to arrange for a presidential tour of Texas as a pre-reelection campaign way to improve their standing in the polls. Connally stated as much in his 1978 testimony to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), explaining that he was then too busy campaigning for his own election to do it, but affirmed that it was Johnson who was behind it, though LBJ claimed that it was Kennedy who “needled” him to get it done (as can be heard at about the 7:00 minute mark on this video).

To increase the pressure on President Kennedy—who had still not agreed to make such a trip—in April, 1963 Johnson leaked an unauthorized story to the Dallas Times-Herald newspaper that the President was planning to make the trip, which resulted in a full banner headline on April 24, 1963 “LBJ Sees Kennedy Dallas Visit—One Day Texas Tour Eyed.” That rather brazen act by Johnson, unbeknownst to either Kennedy or Connally, should leave little doubt about who was pressing whom about making the trip. Two months later, while the three were together in El Paso for other purposes, the discussion of preliminary planning finally began.

In the meantime, Johnson’s stature with the Kennedys had continued to diminish. JFK’s secretary Evelyn Lincoln stated that a “persistent rumor” had been circulating throughout Washington in the autumn of 1963, that Kennedy was planning to remove Lyndon Johnson from the ticket in 1964.  She stated that her father-in-law, who worked in the Executive Office Building where Johnson’s vice presidential suite was located, told her that: “Johnson would storm out of his office into the reception room and shout to someone walking with him, ‘Why does the White House always have it in for me? I’m going back to Texas and run for the United States Senate against Senator Yarborough.”[1]

During this same period, October 19, 1963 to be exact, an appreciation dinner was held in Austin called “A Texas Salute to Ralph Yarborough” including other senators from throughout the country and a keynote speech by the Postmaster General, John A. Gronouski, with a filmed message by President Kennedy. Despite the fact that Johnson was then spending a month at his nearby ranch preparing for JFK’s trip to Texas, as Mrs. Lincoln put it, “Mr. Johnson was conspicuous by his absence.”[2]

Mrs. Lincoln’s reference to Johnson’s “absence” related to more than his not being invited to the Yarborough party; she had also made the point about how the Kennedys were purposefully leaving him out of important meetings on any substantive issues, not only on foreign policy matters but domestic as well. His absence from the development of the civil rights bill Kennedy submitted to Congress in June, 1963—despite Johnson’s position as the chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission—illustrates that point with astonishing clarity.

Yet Johnson continued portraying himself as an active member of the administration, as revealed in George Reedy’s 1982 memoir, recounting his fifteen years of working for Johnson, and how he had observed Johnson’s growing paranoia about Robert Kennedy’s control over the press. By late 1963, Reedy stated, Johnson had begun fearing that Bobby was preparing to launch a “dump LBJ” movement in 1964. Furthermore, Reedy noted how Johnson had begun showing his growing desperation by hanging out in the West Wing of the White House, pretending to be an active collaborator with JFK, an action Reedy did not feel was becoming to a man of his position.[3]

It was during this period that Lyndon went to his ranch to begin preparing for the Texas presidential trip, spending considerable time on the Dallas motorcade piece of the three-day presidential visit. In the meantime, Connally had gone to Washington to visit the President in preparation for the trip; he was very concerned that Kennedy might back out of his commitment to come to Texas, for the purpose of bringing the feuding factions together. Despite what Connally would write about warning Kennedy not to come to Texas (below), JFK’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln said that after he left, Kennedy said that, “He sure seemed anxious for me to go to Texas. He attracts some people— money people who would never vote for me, but I have many supporters down there who are bitterly opposed to him. I think in the long run it would be more advantageous to him than for me. The one thing I noticed above everything else was his concern about Lyndon being on the ticket.”[4] [Emphasis added.]

These statements by the very credible Mrs. Lincoln were completely contradicted by an article in the Dallas Morning News on November 23, 1963: The headline of the story was “Connally Wanted President to Call Off Trip to Texas” and the key (second) paragraph of this article stated: “The governor, wounded by Mr. Kennedy’s assassin, was against the idea for two reasons: (1) It would not be wise politically, would expand rather than heal wounds within the Texas Democratic Party, and (2) There was the possibility of some unpleasant incident.”[5]

That article – published the day after JFK’s assassination, when Connally was hospitalized and under intensive care – could not possibly have come from anything he might have said. It could only have originated from Lyndon Johnson, undoubtedly mouthed by one of his many sycophants, possibly Bill Moyers, who had instantly been promoted into the White House press office from his former position as assistant director of the Peace Corps.

These diametrically opposite statements, one from the credible Mrs. Lincoln, the other—directly or indirectly—from the pathological liar Lyndon Johnson, show yet another set of Johnsonian lies meant to supplant the truth. Regarding Connally’s White House visit, although Johnson publicly denied it, even expressing some anger about Connally visiting with the President without him being there, it appears that he—albeit indirectly—had probably caused JFK to invite Connally despite the fact that Johnson was not invited to accompany him. Johnson’s manipulations were all designed to ensure that Kennedy would come to Texas, which he thought would have to be taken as a sign that Johnson would be on the 1964 ticket. Just the prospect of it, he must have thought, would stanch the “persistent rumors” engulfing Washington that he would be removed.

After the assassination, it would no longer matter anyway, but the less that rumor spread, the less scrutiny would be put on his own actions in the immediate aftermath. Author Jeff Shesol, in his book Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade, wrote about how Johnson still repeated those lies years afterwards, claiming that it was a “great myth” that he did anything to force Kennedy to come to Texas,[6] yet that is precisely what the record shows. The most compelling piece of that evidence is the video available on the internet, archived at the JFK Library and the PBS files, in which Senator George Smathers recalls how JFK lamented, “I just don’t want to go down in that mess. I hate to go. I wish I could think of a way to get out of it.”[7]

SEE LINK TO VIDEO HERE

Yet Johnson would carry on with his denials, “that he had dragged a reluctant president to Dallas and to his death. ‘That’s a great myth,’ Johnson complained privately. ‘I didn’t force him to come to Texas. Hell, he wanted to come out there himself!’”[8] Clearly, Johnson had repeated that lie so often that he came to believe it was the truth, just as he was habitually known to do, a point that has been made and validated by many of his staff and documented, ironically, by the preeminent LBJ biographer Robert Caro, who, nevertheless, based some of his most critically-important analyses on the statements of this pathological liar.

By 1967, Connally even went to the trouble—undoubtedly at Johnson’s behest—to write in the November 27 issue of Life magazine an article titled “Why Kennedy Went to Texas,” which contained a number of blatantly false statements about that trip, obviously meant to deflect attention away from the role he and Johnson had played in luring John Kennedy to Texas. This article was nothing more than an attempt by two conniving and duplicitous politicians to effectively blame JFK for causing his own death by insisting on coming to Texas in the first place (despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary). Planting such a ludicrous lie, had the public chosen to believe it, would of course be extremely helpful in diverting attention about JFK’s fate away from Johnson, clearly the primary objective of Connally’s article.

How Robert Caro Misrepresented John Connally’s Visit JFK to the White House

Robert Caro wrote in The Passage of Power, that Connally had gone to Washington at Kennedy’s invitation to finalize planning for the trip, one month before.[9]  That account was focused on the point that JFK had excluded Johnson from the meeting, and how—when Lyndon found out about it (somehow, immediately after it happened and before Connally broke the news to him), probably from a Secret Service agent inside the White House, known to be LBJ’s mole— Johnson became enraged that he had not been invited to the meeting.

A friend of John Connally named Doug Thompson wrote an article based upon what Connally personally told him about that meeting and his warning JFK not to make the trip. Thompson published his account over a decade after Connally’s death, in 2006, explaining how he personally met John Connally in 1982, later becoming friends with him, and how each visited the other with some regularity for a decade before Connally’s death in 1993.  On one such occasion, while having a dinner with him, Connally told Thompson: “You know I was one of the ones who advised Kennedy to stay away from Texas . . . Lyndon (Johnson) was being a real a** hole about the whole thing and insisted [that Kennedy come to Texas].”[10]  It should be noted that there is nothing in Connally’s Warren Commission testimony about such a warning; in fact the opposite point—that he offered a welcoming encouragement to make the trip—can be gleaned from reading that testimony.[11]  Yet the story Connally told Thompson was consistent with the headline noted above, from the Nov. 23, 1963 article in the Dallas newspaper that could only have been planted by Lyndon Johnson or one of his sycophants.

In the unlikely event that Connally’s statement to Thompson was true—his point being to prove that he had no prior knowledge of the real plans—Connally would, nevertheless, eventually capitulate, and cooperate with Johnson’s elaborate cover-up, with the notable exception that he would consistently say he did not believe in the conclusions of the Warren Report, though never explain why.

Mr. Thompson’s account, published on a widely-read “alternative” political news site six years before Caro’s book Passage of Power, was ignored by an author famous for his rule about “turning every page” of documents relating to the subject of his books; yet there are many instances I’ve documented where some of the most critical matters related to the assassination are missing (see here, here,and here for more examples).

In this case it relates to the key issue, “Why did JFK decide to go to Dallas?”  Were it not for that fateful trip, his most important life-time of work would have never been done, for his subject would have been consigned to history as just another grubby politician, unworthy of a single volume — much less, five.

Of course, Connally might have been lying about all of this to Mr. Thompson and his wife, in an attempt to cover himself from suspicions of his being a witting accomplice.  Connally, like his mentor Johnson, was not above twisting his words to fit whatever concerns he had in a given moment into contradictions that would later be jettisoned as circumstances changed.  For example, in his testimony to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978, he claimed that, on his Western trip in the summer of 1963 in a preliminary discussion about planning the Texas trip, JFK said: “Well, ‘I think we ought to have four dinners,’ and I was in a state of shock. He said, ‘I think we ought to have four or five fundraising dinners.’”[12]  That conflicted with what he had previously stated to the Warren Commission regarding Kennedy’s desire for only one fundraising dinner:

“[JFK] said he would like to do whatever he could do that was agreeable with me; it was agreeable with me that he more or less trust me to plan the trip for him, to tell him where he would like to go. About that time some thought was being given to having four fundraising dinners.  His attitude on that was he wouldn’t prefer that. He felt that the appearances would not be too good, that he would much prefer to have one if we were going to have any. I told him this was entirely consistent with my own thoughts.  We ought not to have more than one fundraising dinner.  If we did, it ought to be in Austin.”[13] 

In his rendition of this subject, Robert Caro conflated the point regarding the number of campaign dinners thusly, giving Connally the credit for limiting the number of campaign dinners:[14]

Connally proposed that Kennedy’s visit, for which the dates of November 21 and 22 had been tentatively set, include visits to five cities, as Kennedy wanted, but only one fund-raising affair: a hundred-dollar-per-plate dinner in Austin, on the 22nd.  Otherwise, Connally said, ‘people down there are going to think that all you are interested in is the financial rape of the state,’ and I used those words,’ and Kennedy said he would accept Connally’s judgement.

In the Motorcade, 12:30 PM in Dallas: John Connally Yells: “They’re going to kill us both

What is true, and revealing of Connally’s prior knowledge, was his shouted exclamation upon being shot (“They are going to kill us both!”).[15] An attorney friend explained that the legal term for that is an “excited utterance,” which the judicial system treats as an exception to the ordinary “hearsay” rules by admitting them as evidence because they are considered intrinsically trustworthy. Furthermore, the corollary premise—that when a life-altering experience occurs, people remember it—must be factored into the analysis and be considered in the ultimate conclusion.

Regardless of whether or not he knew of the plot in advance, Connally clearly became aware of the truth subsequently, as revealed in another comment he made that Mr. Thompson repeated: “I love this country and we needed closure at the time. I will never speak out publicly about what I believe.[16] [Emphasis added.]

Connally’s words clearly revealed that he was hiding what he knew to be the truth, and he did it out of fear for the future of the country if that information were to become public. He knew that the implications could possibly bring down the government and he didn’t want to be the one responsible for that. 

Robert Caro’s Mission: To Rehabilitate Lyndon Johnson’s Legacy

It could be argued that there is no substantive reason to argue that Robert Caro missed a significant fact since Connally’s claim to have warned JFK not to go to Texas, as explained above, was a lie. But that misses the point:  Throughout his works[17] he intentionally omits anything (e.g., a witness, an event, a link to anyone with criminal connections to Johnson) that would contradict the message required of his mission.  As noted above, I have previously documented many such instances of this paradigm, and have now added to that list both the point about from whom the idea about the “five dinners” came (arguably LBJ himself) as well as the origin of the notion that the trip was ever Kennedy’s idea—obviously, according to his friend Senator Smathers, he actually dreaded the very thought of having to go to Texas.

The list could be extended endlessly further, to include such diverse points as Caro’s denial that Johnson had any involvement with Bobby Baker’s Quorum Club,[18] that in his WWII “service” the bomber he rode in was attacked by Japanese Zeroes while he climbed into the navigator’s bubble for a better view,[19] that Secret Service agent Rufus Youngblood actually threw LBJ to the floor of the limo and covered him on the way to Parkland,[20] and that JFK had never planned to replace him as vice president in 1964.[21] It slowly becomes clear that the documentation of Caro’s omissions and misstatements would require a very lengthy tome; yet it quickly becomes just as clear that those discrepancies all relate to the mission he has worked decades to achieve.

Regarding the primary subject—why JFK went to Texas—and Connally’s claim, parroting the Dallas newspaper story the day after JFK’s murder: It was what he did not report, that Connally had purportedly warned Kennedy not to make the trip, that Caro did not scrutinize.

It was the fact that the purported “warning” by Connally to President Kennedy was originally made—perhaps by Bill Moyers or another LBJ sycophant—immediately after the murder and reported the next day, then repeated by Connally himself, that suggests it was merely one component of this single aspect of the enormous cover-up.  


END NOTES


[1] Lincoln, Evelyn, Kennedy and Johnson, p.196

[2] Ibid. pp. 197-198

[3] Reedy, George. Lyndon B. Johnson: A Memoir. p. 147.

[4] Lincoln, pp. 196-197

[5] Dallas Morning News, November 23, 1963. Allen Duckworth, Political Editor. p. 4–5.

[6] Shesol, p. 138

[7] See Youtube “Smathers: JFK didn’t really want to go to Texas” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFa_S3YEjMQ )

[8] Op. Cit. (Shesol)

[9] Caro, Robert, The Passage of Power, pp. 273-274 (And ref. endnotes p. 659)

[10] Thompson, Doug, “Is Deception the Best Way to Serve One’s Country?” OpEd News, 3/30/2006 (See: http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_doug_tho_060330_is_ deception_the_bes.htm )

Inter alia: Thompson also wrote this about his conversation with Connally:  “I had to ask. Did he think Lee Harvey Oswald fired the gun that killed Kennedy? ‘Absolutely not,’ Connally said. ‘I do not, for one second, believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission.’ So why not speak out? ‘Because I love this country and we needed closure at the time. I will never speak out publicly about what I believe’.”

[11] Warren Commission Hearings Vol. IV, pp. 129-136 (https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=34#relPageId=137&tab=page)

[12] HSCA Hearings, Vol. I, September 6, 7, and 8, 1978, p. 14

[13] Op. Cit. (Warren Commission Hearings, p. 130)

[14] Op. Cit. (Caro)

[15] As reported by William Manchester, based upon a statement by Jacqueline Kennedy (The Death of a President, p.157).  In his 4/21/64 Warren Commission testimony, he changed “both” to “all”, (W.C. Hearings Vol IV, p. 133) and again in a 1992 interview with Larry King (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry5kexkmIbs at 4:50), which eventually became the legend most often repeated, an adjustment apparently made to leaven the sinister implications of his utterance. (Cudos to Ed Tatro for bringing this point to my attention).

[16] Op. Cit. (Thompson article in OpEd News).

[17] At least the last three volumes, the last being “The Passage of Power.”

[18] Caro, The Passage … p. 290 (a very confusing point, contradicted by his own previous statements in a televised CNN report, The Story of LBJ’s Silver Star, by Jamie McIntyre (CNN military affairs correspondent) and Jim Barnett (CNN producer):

“Robert Caro: The most you can say about Lyndon Johnson and his Silver Star is that it is surely one of the most undeserved Silver Stars in history. Because [even] if you accept everything that he said, he was still in action for no more than thirteen minutes and only as an observer.  Men who flew many missions, brave men, never got a Silver Star . . .I would say that it’s an issue of exaggerations. He said that he flew on many missions, not one mission. He said that the crew members, the other members of the Air Force group, were so admiring of him that they called him Raider Johnson. Neither of these things are true.”

[19] Ibid. p. 314

[20] Ibid. (among other references)

[21] Ibid. pp. 265-270

8 thoughts on “Why JFK Went to Texas

  1. Phil I’m intrigued to understand how it was if John Connall had prior knowledge of the assassination, he sat so casually in the car in front of the President where it was obvious he would be extremely vulnerable in the event of a hit. I’m aware from your writing that Johnson had originally planned Sen. Yarborough in that place and that there had been a last-minute disputed change of seating ordered by JFK but given that, Gov. Connall surely wouldn’t have agreed or sat normally in that position if he had the slightest knowledge of the intended assassination which could feasibly have happened only in the motorcade where he was placed.
    With thanks for your insights
    Deborah Shah

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    1. That is a good question, one that I’ve wrestled with from time to time, I believe that he was assured (by LBJ) that he would not be in the “line of fire” because the shots would come from the side, not from behind or in front of the vehicle. I’ve nothing to prove that but it is the only realistic answer that might apply. Additionally, consider that nearly all other witnesses stated that they initially thought that the “report” sounded like a firecracker, but Connally said he immediately recognized it as a rifle shot from the rear, and he had sufficient time to turn all the way around to his right, then begin turning back before being hit (which explains why he didn’t believe the “magic bullet” nonsense. The reason he immediately recognized that it was a rifle shot was because he was actually expecting to hear one, just not from behind. The fact that LBJ lied to Connally about that should come as no surprise, he was used to saying whatever was needed to advance his agenda. But the fact that Jackie was not in the jump seat where Connally sat (as she had been previously in San Antonio, with Connally in the back seat with JFK) was undoubtedly because she would have been in the line of fire.

      I also believe that each of the shooters were instructed to carefully avoid shooting anyone else, especially Jackie, so that was the reason there was no shot from the other end of the TSBD, which would have directly put her in the line of fire. The kill shot came from an angle from the right-front, sufficient to take Connally out of the line of fire.

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  2. Thank you Phil for this answer. I am wondering do you think it’s possible that Connally although part of the Texas inner circle, could have been considered “second tier” by LBJ and his cronies in terms of “need to know” regarding details of the assassination. Even being in the Murchisson meeting he may have not been party to the specifics or may have been misled as to the intended time and location of the assassination. The fewer people in the exact know, the better and it would help to explain his seeming nonchalence in the car. I understand your point about him not believing he was in the line of fire but given the fact that bullets are likely to end up anywhere, I can’t imagine how someone with exact foreknowledge could sit in front of the target and look so relaxed. Again, thank you in advance for your thoughts…

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    1. Deborah, please have a look at the photo in my blog “RE: John Connally’s Problem with the Truth” just published today. Note the expression on his face in the photo attached — he wasn’t “relaxed” that morning in Fort Worth: the worried look suggests that he indeed knew he would be in great danger. That explains why LBJ repeatedly tried to get JFK to allow him to ride in his car, and get the hated Yarborough placed in that seat.

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