WASHINGTON – Thousands of never-before-seen government documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination shortly will be released to the public unless President Trump issues an order that they remain secret.
Under the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, the trove of documents regarding Kennedy’s death must be made public in full by the National Archives by Oct. 26, the law’s 25th anniversary.
Congress mandated all assassination documents be released within 25 years but gave the president the authority to block the move by determining that publicly disclosing the documents would harm foreign relations, law enforcement, intelligence or the military.
The protected documents include more than 3,600 files that have never been released to the public and more than 30,000 that were previously released but with redactions.
The majority of the files are CIA and FBI records. Neither agency will disclose whether they’ve appealed to Trump to keep the files sealed, and the National Archives would not say whether any agency has appealed.
The White House has yet to address whether the president will release the files. But speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House official told Politico in April that the Trump administration “is familiar with the requirements” of the 1992 law and that the White House is working with the National Archives “to enable a smooth process in anticipation of the October deadline.”
Judge John Tunheim, a federal judge in Minnesota who served as the chairman of the National Archives in the 1990s and publicly disclosed many JFK assassination records, told the Associated Press that it’s improbable the unreleased documents contain any bombshell revelations about Kennedy’s 1963 murder.
But JFK scholars and historians are demanding the protected files no longer remain secret.
They suspect the collection of documents will reveal critical, never-disclosed details pertaining to accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico City, during which he visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies, weeks before he killed the president.
Larry Sabato, author of a book about Kennedy and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, contends its “long past time to be forthcoming with this information.”
“The American public deserves to know the facts, or at least they deserve to know what the government has kept hidden from them for all these years,” Sabato said in an email to the Associated Press.
Oswald visited the embassies to get visas that would allow him to enter communist Cuba and the Soviet Union, concluded the Warren Commission, the panel established by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination.
The files that have been withheld in full are those the Assassination Records Review Board, a temporary federal agency established under the 1992 law, considered “not believed relevant,” Tunheim said.
But Tunheim acknowledged that the sealed documents will provide insight into the arrangements the U.S. made with the Mexican government to surveil the embassies. He admitted there may be portions of the files that are more relevant now than they were two decades ago.
“There could be some jewels in there, because our level of knowledge in the 1990s is maybe different from today,” Tunheim said.
Tunheim dismissed the idea that the documents would vindicate conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s assassination.
“People will probably always believe there must have been a conspiracy,” Tunheim said. “I just don’t think that the federal government, in particular, is efficient enough to hide a secret like that for so long,” he said.
In July, the National Archives published 440 assassination documents that were previously withheld from the public and republished thousands of others that had been released, without redactions.