It was a private moment between two aspiring statesmen.
On the evening of May 19, 1976, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing of France visited President Gerald Ford in Washington. Giscard, a calculating centrist, had come for a state visit. Ford, the former Michigan congressman, had succeeded the disgraced Richard Nixon. Both men were new to their high offices.
In the limousine ride to the state banquet at George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, Giscard asked Ford about a sensitive issue: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 13 years before.
‘Here is an indiscrete question, Giscard said, “You were with the Warren Commission. What was your take?’
Ford, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives in 1963, served on the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy;s assassination and concluded there was no conspiracy.
Publicly, Ford defended the lone gunman finding. Privately, he offered a different opinion, according to Giscard.
‘It is not satisfactory,” Ford replied according to Giscard. “We first concluded that it was not an isolated crime, it was something organized. We were sure that it was organized. But we were unable to find out by who it was organized’
Giscard told the same story to Le Parisien magazine in 2013.
He said Ford told him, “We came to the conclusion that this assassination had been prepared. There was a conspiracy. But we were not able to identify which organization had sponsored it. ”
Such a comment, if Ford actually made it, would be out of character. Publicly, Ford adamantly rejected the idea that Kennedy had been killed by a conspiracy. He said the suggestion was “communist propaganda.”
During the Commission’s investigation, Ford was eager to disprove any suggestion of a conspiracy, perhaps too eager. When a draft of the Commission’s report described the location of one of Kennedy’s wounds, Ford suggested change the initial description of the bullet wound in Kennedy’s back to place it higher up in his body, according to the Washington Post.
Ford’s changes had the effect of buttressing the so-called “single bullet theory: Commission’s controversial claim that a single bullet wounded by JFK in the back, emerged from his throat and then caused five wounds in Texas Governor John Connally.
The Commission’s staff, relying on drawing made from autopsy photographs, wrote “A bullet had entered his back at a point slightly above the shoulder to the right of the spine.”
Back or Neck?
Ford proposed changing the sentence to, “A bullet had entered the back of his neck at a point to the right of the spine.”
By locating the entrance wound in the back of the neck, Ford made it more plausible for the Commission to claim that the bullet exited Kennedy’s throat.
The Commission accepted his change with a slight modification: “A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck and slightly to the right of his spine.”
That conclusion–which Connally himself rejected–was key to the Commission’s lone gunman findings. It was forensically weak, as Conally’s testimony and Ford’s editorial intervention demonstrated.
[The British web site 22November1963 has a lucid and fair assessment of the single-bullet theory, which concludes it is not credible.]
Perhaps Giscard simply misunderstood what Ford said. As Giscard showed in a 2016 appearance, his command of the language is decent but he is not entirely comfortable speaking English.
In the preface to a 2007 book on the Warren Commission, Ford left open the possibility of conspiracy. He acknowledged that the CIA had concealed relevant evidence from JFK investigators about its plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1963
“Given the new facts, could there have been a conspiracy?” Ford wrote. “Conceivably. But no verified evidence to date shows a link to, or any direct involvement by, any government agency, federal employees, or subversive group.”
Ford died in 2007.
Giscard, who served as French president from 1974 to 1981, is still alive and living in France. He concluded that JFK was killed by his enemies.
“So, there was an organization — undisclosed to this day –- who hated or feared President Kennedy and who decided to eliminate him,” Giscard said. “It’s my conviction”.
H/T Philippe Cassard