WASHINGTON – Barring any last-minute interventions, President Donald Trump is expected to authorize the release Thursday of thousands of documents related to John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The records, held by the National Archives and Records Administration, could shed more light on Lee Harvey Oswald’s six-day trip to Mexico City, when he met with Cubans and Soviets two months before he shot Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
The papers could also reveal more about the careers and activities of Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and James McCord, both of whom were longtime CIA operatives.
But experts do not believe the documents will contain information to shake the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald acted as the lone gunman in Dealey Plaza. Oswald himself was killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963, at Dallas police headquarters on live television – a stunning turn that fueled decades of conspiracy theories.
The release is expected to give the public a few thousand of the records, which could total tens of thousands of pages. More than 30,000 additional records could be disclosed in coming days. It is not clear how many documents scheduled for release Thursday will be new and never seen before, and how many will be previously released but partially redacted files that will now contain fewer blanked-out sections.
Trump, who made a quick fundraising visit Wednesday – to, of all places, Dallas – tweeted excitedly about the records’ dissemination: “The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow,” he said. “So interesting!”
He’d promised in an earlier tweet that, “Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.”
Trump’s decision followed weeks of speculation by assassination experts, historians and journalists eager to see the final batch of Kennedy files. When President George H.W. Bush signed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, the government had 25 years to release all the documents, with a deadline of Oct. 26, 2017. By law, only Trump has the power to delay the release.
The president was lobbied to withhold some of the documents by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, according to Trump confidant Roger Stone. Stone, a political consultant who wrote a New York Times best-selling book alleging Lyndon B. Johnson had Kennedy murdered, pushed Trump to release everything and hailed the president’s decision as a victory on Twitter.
But in an interview Wednesday, Stone said he worried that the intelligence community might still persuade his friend not to release all the papers, or that the files might be heavily redacted.
“If the data dump that the National Archives did in July of a small amount of JFK-related material is any indication, the fallback of the intelligence agencies appears to be redact and withhold as much as this information as possible,” Stone said. “They’ll use the broad rubric of national security. If the censorship is so great to make the president’s order meaningless, it’ll get litigated in the courts.”
The National Archives has had custody of the records since the Warren Commission published its investigative findings in 1964.
In 1991, Oliver Stone released his movie, “JFK,” which suggested Kennedy was killed in a grand conspiracy involving the CIA, the FBI and the military. At the end of the film, audiences were informed that many of the investigative documents wouldn’t be released until 2029. Soon, protests erupted, and Congress passed the Kennedy Assassination Records Act that was signed into law a year later.
By the early 1990s, only a sliver of the Warren Commission’s papers – just 2 percent – had been concealed, either partially or in full, according to the National Archives. Since then, the archives has made periodic releases of its repository, which totals more than 5 million pages. In a recent article on its website, the archives said that 88 percent of its documents are fully open; another 11 percent have been released, but with redactions; and 1 percent has been fully withheld.
In early 2016, the website GovernmentAttic.org obtained through the Freedom of Information Act the list of what was then more than 3,600 records that had been entirely withheld. Titles of the documents included “Personality File on Lee Harvey Oswald” and “Tape of Mr. William K. Harvey’s Interview, 4/10/75,” a reference to the legendary CIA officer who oversaw the agency’s plots to kill Fidel Castro.
A majority of Americans believe others besides Oswald were involved in the shooting, according to repeated Gallup polls conducted over the past 50 years. Since the Warren Commission concluded its investigation, historians and journalists have written extensively about how the CIA deliberately concealed information about Oswald’s interactions with Cubans or Soviets in Mexico City before the killing.
Philip Shenon, author of a 2013 book on the Warren Commission, interviewed one of the commission’s chief investigators, David Slawson, for Politico two years ago and showed him documents that had been declassified in the 1990s but that Slawson had never seen. Slawson’s conclusion: The CIA tampered with surveillance evidence of Oswald in Mexico City that would have revealed the agency knew of Oswald’s threat well before the assassination.
Even the CIA publicly acknowledged in 2014 that John McCone, its director at the time of the assassination, participated in a “benign cover-up,” according to a paper by agency historian David Robarge. His article said McCone was “complicit in keeping incendiary and diversionary issues off the commission’s agenda. . . .”
The agency historian wrote that McCone purposely did not tell the commission about CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, some of which had been planned at the Mexico City station.
“Without this information,” Shenon concluded in a 2015 Politico story, “the commission never even knew to ask the question of whether Oswald had accomplices in Cuba or elsewhere who wanted Kennedy dead in retaliation for the Castro plots.”