More than a million documents relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy have been released in the last 25 years by the National Archives. But U.S. defense and intelligence agencies resisted releasing the remaining several thousand files, citing national security concerns.
This morning, Donald Trump announced that he would be making the remaining assassination documents public.
The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act required all JFK assassination records to be released by October 26 of this year. Some assassination buffs anticipated resistance from the White House. But Trump made it clear he would release all records “subject to the receipt of further information” from the agencies.
But one final batch remains and only the president has the authority to extend the papers’ secrecy past the October deadline. In his tweet, Trump seemed to strongly imply he was going to release all the remaining documents. But he also hedged, suggesting that if between now and Oct. 26, other government agencies made a strong case not to release the documents, he wouldn’t. Also, Trump was not clear about whether he would publish all of the documents in full, or with some of them redacted.
In the days leading up to Trump’s tweet, a National Security Council official told The Washington Post that government agencies were urging the president not to release some of the documents. But Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars this week that he personally lobbied Trump to publish all of the documents.
Assassination experts don’t expect much from the released documents.
Though Kennedy assassination experts say they don’t think the last batch of papers contains any major bombshells, the president’s decision to release the documents could heighten the clarity around the assassination, which has fueled so many conspiracy theorists, including Trump himself.
In May 2016, while on the presidential campaign trail, Trump gave an interview to Fox News strongly accusing the father of his GOP primaries opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, of consorting with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald right before the shooting.
The assassination experts do suspect the papers will shed light on the activities of Oswald while he was traveling in Mexico City in late September 1963 and courting Cuban and Soviet spies.
As it turns out, the CIA isn’t fearful of a release of 50-year-old documents as much as they are concerned about documents generated in the 1990s about the assassination.
“It’s great news that the president is focused on this and that he’s trying to demonstrate transparency. But the question remains whether he will open the library in full — every word in every document, as the law requires,” Shenon said. “And my understanding is that he won’t without infuriating people at the CIA and elsewhere who are determined to keep at least some of the information secret, especially in documents created in the 1990s.”
Jefferson Morley, a former Post reporter who has studied the Kennedy assassination records for years, said the last tranche of material is also intriguing because it contains files on senior CIA officials from the 1960s — officers well aware of Oswald’s activities in the days before the assassination.
Officials from the FBI and CIA did not cover themselves in glory in the days leading up to the assassination and in the immediate aftermath. Saving their reputations is no longer a reason to keep the documents secret.
But information gathered during the 1990s, when reports were still being generated by the CIA about the assassination, might be heavily redacted or kept secret. Revealing them may expose “sources and methods” that the agency still uses today.
There will be no smoking gun pointing to a conspiracy, nor is there likely to be any definitive proof that Oswald acted alone. But for historians and avid amateurs alike, there are likely to be golden nuggets of previously unknown facts that will shed light on government actions relating to the assassination and the alleged assassin.