Trump blocks release of some JFK assassination records – Politico
President Donald Trump on Thursday delayed the release of some documents relating to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, while allowing the National Archives to post 2,800 other pages that had yet to be made public.
Trump is holding back an unspecific number of documents at the request mainly of the FBI and CIA, according to a White House official, and has directed federal agencies to re-review the remaining files, giving them 180 days to do so. The documents being held back include redacted information, and are not being immediately released due to national security concerns.
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The president had been hyping the release of the trove on Twitter in recent days, tweeting on Saturday that “subject to the receipt of further information,” he would allow “the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.” On Wednesday, he teased the release again, tweeting that “the long anticipated release” of the files would take place Thursday, calling them, “So interesting!”
Trump released a memo on Thursday explaining why he had decided to block — at least temporarily — the release of some files.
“The American public expects — and deserves — its Government to provide as much access as possible to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records so that the people may finally be fully informed about all aspects of this pivotal event,” the president said.
He added that some executive departments and agencies had proposed that certain information should remain redacted “because of national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns.”
“I have no choice — today — but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our Nation’s security,” the president wrote.
Trump said that all the information in the redacted documents will be withheld from the public until no later than April 26 of next year, and that agencies will have to propose any further postponements by March 12.
The president’s announcement on Thursday partially made good on a 1992 law that ordered the publication of the assassination files, setting a 25-year deadline that ran out on Thursday.
The law, which mandated the release of all documents related to Kennedy’s assassination, was signed by then-President George H.W. Bush in response to “JFK,” the conspiracy-filled Oscar-winning movie from Oliver Stone that had been released a year earlier. The law ordered the immediate release of thousands of pages of documents and set the 25-year deadline for the release of the 3,100 yet-unseen documents as well as the full, unredacted versions of the 30,000 pages already made public.
The law established the Assassination Records Review Board, which has compiled the JFK collection at the National Archives. It also left wiggle room, though, for the president to block the release of some documents, an option Trump partially exercised. While many of the documents released Thursday were created in the 1960s and 70s, a small number of them — mostly sourced from the CIA — are as recent as from the 1990s. Such documents could have the potential to expose relatively recent intelligence and law enforcement operations.
Following the White House’s rollout, researchers expressed skepticism that the CIA and FBI didn’t have enough time to fully review the files for any information that might still risk revealing intelligence sources and methods.
“I guess nobody had 25 years to prepare for today,” said Rex Bradford, president of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, a nonprofit research organization that has digitized hundreds of thousands of documents and government reports about the Kennedy assassination.
But an NSC official who spoke on background defended the partial release; “There does remain sensitive information in the records,” he said.
“This reflects poorly on the Trump Administration and confirms everyone’s worst fears about government in general,” said Russ Baker, an investigative journalist and founder of WhoWhatWhy.com, a new site that has established a team to pore over the documents that are released.
“Whatever combination of incompetence and self-interest, it is highly demoralizing,” he added. “The only possible mitigating factor is budget cuts at agencies, and a lack of adequate personnel to handle these tasks — and again blame falls on the Trump Admin and its GOP allies.”
The trove of documents released Thursday are expected to offer a wealth of information on the Kennedy assassination, an event that has been the intense focus of historians and conspiracy theorists for decades. Trump himself has not shied away from offering his own theories on the assassination, including linking Rafael Cruz, the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to Kennedy’s murder. Trump offered no evidence to support the accusation, which both Cruzes have denied.
The president has willingly waded into other conspiracy theories as well, serving most notably as one of the loudest voices behind the so-called “birther” movement that accused former President Barack Obama of having been born in another country. The release of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate did little to assuage the baseless theories pushed by Trump and others, and the president only conceded that Obama had been born in the U.S. in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, claiming credit for having gotten to the bottom of the former president’s place of birth.
But the White House said Thursday’s decision to only partially release of the documents, which relate to the details of a historic event cemented in the American psyche, was still consistent with a desire for transparency.
“The president wants to ensure there is full transparency here,” a White House official said. “And [he] is expecting that the agencies do a better job in reducing the conflicts in the redactions. … That’s what’s been conveyed to all the agencies.”
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.