Journalist Evan Thomas says as attorney general, Robert Kennedy feared he had somehow gotten his own brother, President John F. Kennedy, killed.
Author of a biography of Robert Kennedy, Thomas describes his role in the Kennedy administration and his involvement in the investigation.
The following is an excerpt of ABCNEWS' interview with Thomas:
ABCNEWS: Can you describe the fears in America in the minutes and hours right after President Kennedy's assassination?
Thomas: This is the height of the Cold War. And the idea that a sneak attack from the Russians was very much on people's minds. So naturally the fear is that this was the first step in a general attack by the Soviet Union. Not just ordinary people, but at the top of government, that's the first thing that they're wondering about. Is this an attack to decapitate our leader, so they can come in and nuke us?
We had scared the hell out of each other in the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before. We have to remember that memory of that near miss was still fresh in people's minds.
ABCNEWS: How did the leaders and agencies of our government respond to the Kennedy asssassination?
Thomas: I think the most important thing the United States government wanted to do was reassure the public that there was not some plot, not some Russian attack, not some Cuban attack. It was to calm and soothe fears, real fears, that this was somehow some nefarious Communist plot. And that the number one goal throughout the upper levels of the government was to calm that fear, and bring a sense of reassurance that this really was the work of a lone gunman.
Lost Faith in Government
ABCNEWS: Was there any price that was paid for that?
Thomas: The price was not readily apparent. There was a price to that reassurance, to that soothing, because there was a bit of dissembling. And the bill did not come due until later. But they ended up shoving some things under the rug, covering up certain aspects of government activities, particularly assassination plots against Fidel Castro, that gradually seeped out later. In their haste to reassure everybody, they created an environment that was sure to come around and bite them. Because they covered things up that made it later look like that maybe they were covering up a plot to kill the president.
And so it was a delayed reaction. But when it came, there was a real cost. There was a real cost to faith in government, there was this pervasive and long-running conspiracy theory that President Kennedy had been killed as the result of a plot.
This belief, this belief that the CIA killed the president of the United States — think about that for a second — that our own government killed the president, has given people a sour and conspiratorial and I think ultimately dangerous view of the government. The CIA has done a lot of stupid and wrong things, but killing the president of the United States was not one of them.
I do think, though, that it's inevitable that when a young and handsome and heroic figure dies in his youth there are always gonna be legends and rumors and guesses about why he died. And it's just not good enough to say that some nut with a gun did it. People are gonna want to have a grander, darker, deeper explanation for it all.
Who Killed His Brother?
ABCNEWS: How did Robert Kennedy learn of the events at Dealey Plaza on November 22?