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Trump Pledges Release of All JFK Assassination Files

  • Peter Heinlein

Tourists gather on the street where President John F. Kennedy's was shot from 6th floor of the book depository at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Oct. 25, 2017.

President Donald Trump said late Friday that he will be releasing all files pertaining to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with some redactions.

Trump originally ordered Thursday that hundreds of the files would remain secret, at least temporarily, in the interest of national security.

Trump said temporarily “withholding from public disclosure” the remaining documents was “necessary to protect against harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure.”

Much of the scholarly interest in the assassination papers focuses on files concerning a visit by Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, to Mexico two months before the president’s visit to Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

A White House official briefing reporters Wednesday refused to be drawn in when asked about the Mexico City files.

Controversy and conspiracy theories sprung up within days after the assassination. Less than a week after Kennedy’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to conduct an independent inquiry.

10-month investigation

After a 10-month investigation, the Warren commission issued an 888-page report concluding that Oswald had acted alone to kill Kennedy, and that local nightclub owner Jack Ruby also acted alone in murdering Oswald while the assassin was in police custody two days later.

The vast majority of documents relating to the assassination have been in the public domain for decades.

The files released Thursday include more than 5 million pages of records that were withheld under the JFK Records Act, some for national security reasons and others because they were deemed irrelevant to the investigation.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim headed the congressionally mandated independent Assassination Records Review Board that went through all assassination files in the 1990s and decided which ones should be held back until now.

In a VOA interview, Tunheim said he’s confident that with a very few exceptions, everything relevant to the investigation was made public long ago.

“The review board was very careful in its work to make sure that anything about the assassination itself or about Oswald or about Ruby or any of the characters involved in the assassination was released,” Tunheim told VOA. “If it was central to the story, we released it. There’s no question about it.”

The release of the final batch of files was unlikely, however, to satisfy the legion of conspiracy theorists that has grown up around Kennedy’s death.

Conspiracy theories

A 2013 Gallup Poll survey showed that a solid majority of Americans believe others besides Oswald were involved in the assassination.

Many of the conspiracy theories surround the visit by Oswald, a 24-year-old former Marine who had spent years in the Soviet Union, to Mexico City two months before the assassination, when he visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of a book about Kennedy, says he is no conspiracy theorist. But he’s most interested in documents pertaining to the Mexico City visit.

Sabato has assembled a staff of researchers to go through the files, but he says the job of finding any gems that may be hidden in the mass of newly released material is going to take a long time.

“There are hundreds of thousands of pages in these 3,100 files,” Sabato told VOA. “It’s going to take us years to get through all this and to be able to analyze it.”

Judge Tunheim, who is currently chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, says it is important that the public know absolutely everything about the assassination is out in the open.

“The message should be clear to the American people that everything is being released, and there really is nothing left to release, even if it might incidentally reveal some long ago intelligence gathering methods,” he said.

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