Trump blocked release of hundreds of JFK records at last minute

US president cites ‘potentially irreversible harm’ to national security

On November 22nd, 1963, US president John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Current president Donald Trump has allowed classified information about the incident to be released. Video: Reuters

 

US President Donald Trump has blocked the release of hundreds of records on the assassination of President John F Kennedy, bending to CIA and FBI appeals, despite the National Archives publishing a cache of others.

The files can be viewed here (https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release)

“I have no choice,” Mr Trump said in a memo, citing “potentially irreversible harm” to national security if he was to allow all the records to come out now. He placed those files under a six-month review while allowing 2,800 others come out, just meeting a deadline to honour a law mandating their release.

The documents approved for release and made public late on Thursday capture the frantic days after the assassination on November 22 1963, during which federal agents madly chased after tips, however thin, juggled rumours and sifted through leads worldwide.

They include cables, notes and reports stamped “Secret” which reveal the suspicions of the era — around Cubans and Communists. They cast a wide net over varied activities of the Kennedy administration, such as its covert efforts to upend Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba.

For historians, it is a chance to answer lingering questions, put some unfounded conspiracy theories to rest, and perhaps give life to other theories.

Despite having months to prepare for disclosures that have been on the calendar for 25 years, Mr Trump’s decision came down to a last-minute debate with intelligence agencies — a tussle the president then prolonged by calling for yet further review.

The delay sparked a round of finger-pointing among agencies and complaints that Mr Trump should have released all records.

Roger Stone, a Trump adviser who wrote a book about his theories on the assassination, urged the president to review personally any material that government agencies still want to withhold. Mr Trump should at least “spot check” any extensive redactions to make sure agencies are not “dabbling in acts of criminal insubordination”, Mr Stone said in a statement.

As for the unreleased documents, Mr Trump will impress upon federal agencies that “only in the rarest cases” should JFK files stay secret after the six-month review, officials said.

In the meantime, experts will be poring through a mountain of minutiae and countless loose threads in search of significant revelations.

Much of Thursday passed with nothing from the White House or National Archives except silence, leaving unclear how the government would comply with a law requiring the records to come out by the end of the day — unless Mr Trump was persuaded by intelligence agencies to hold some back.

White House officials said the FBI and CIA made the most requests within the government to withhold some information.

Mr Trump ordered agencies that have proposed withholding material related to the assassination to report to the archivist by next March 12th on which specific information meets the standard for continued secrecy.

That standard includes details that could cause “harm to the military defence, intelligence operations, law enforcement or conduct of foreign relations”, Mr Trump wrote in his order. The archivist will have two weeks to tell the president whether those recommendations validate keeping the withheld information a secret after April 26th.

The full record will still be kept from the public for at least six months — and longer if agencies make a persuasive enough case for continued secrecy.

The collection includes more than 3,100 records — comprising hundreds of thousands of pages — that have never been seen by the public. About 30,000 documents were released previously — with redactions.

Whatever details are released, they are not expected to give a definitive answer to a question that still lingers for some: Whether anyone other than Oswald was involved in the assassination.

The Warren Commission in 1964 concluded that Oswald had been the lone gunman, and another congressional probe in 1979 found no evidence to support the theory that the CIA had been involved. But other interpretations, some more creative than others, have persisted. - AP