In a surprise Saturday morning tweet, President Donald Trump announced that he would allow the release of thousands of long-secret files relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 54 years ago.
Trump left open the possibility, however, that he might withhold some of the documents, raising concerns among Kennedy scholars who fear that the president might yield to pressure from intelligence agencies that might be embarrassed by the revelations.
"Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened," Trump said on Twitter.
Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
The White House later issued a statement leaving open the possibility that some documents could be withheld.
"The president believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise," the statement said.
October 26 deadline
A 1992 law passed unanimously by Congress and signed by President George H.W. Bush mandates that all remaining files be released within 25 years unless the president intervenes in the interest of national security. That deadline is October 26.
As the date for the document release approached, a National Security Council official told The Washington Post that government agencies were urging Trump not to release some of the documents. But the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones [[ https://www.infowars.com/exclusive-trump-to-release-jfk-assassination-files/ ] of the right-wing website Infowars that he had personally urged Trump to release all of the documents.
While Trump’s tweet sparked anticipation and anxiety within the scholarly community, it also energized conspiracy theorists.
A 2013 Gallup Poll survey showed that a solid majority of Americans believe others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in Kennedy’s assassination.
Common conspiracy theories hold that key details surrounding Kennedy’s death were covered up, particularly as they relate to suspected bungling by the CIA, and the possible involvement of other individuals and foreign governments.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of a book about Kennedy, said it will take years for scholars to analyze the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.
Sabato, who had an advance peek as some of the files and posted them on Twitter, told VOA they may provide key details about Oswald’s foreign travels in the weeks leading up to the assassination that was overlooked in the original investigation led by former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren.
“Some of them relate to Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico City when he visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies just two months before the assassination,” Sabato said. “We don’t have all the facts regarding those visits.”
Oswald told investigators he visited the embassies to get visas so he could enter the Soviet Union and Cuba, according to the Warren Commission report.
Sabato said years of research have convinced him that Oswald acted alone.
“But there are many unanswered questions about whether he may have been encouraged to do it,” he said, “Or whether he had told other people in Mexico City that he was going to do it.”
Oswald was arrested in Dallas within hours of the shooting and charged with Kennedy’s murder. He denied the charges, saying he was a "just a patsy." He never had a chance to explain, however, as he was gunned down while in police custody two days later by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
That three days of horror in November 1963 changed America in ways that have fascinated social and political scientists ever since.
“There are lots of reasons for it,” Sabato explained.
“Remember that Kennedy’s death began the process of the extreme loss of public confidence in government, because it was followed by Vietnam and by Watergate and then loads of scandals since," Sabato said in a VOA interview. "Prior to the assassination, most Americans believed their government. When it said ‘x y or z’, they tended to believe it. I don’t know too many people who still think that."
The National Archives, designated as the official repository of assassination-related documents by the “JFK Records Collection Act of 1992,” released an earlier tranche of documents last July.
Highlights included audio files of interviews of a KGB officer who defected to the United States months after the assassination, claiming to have been the officer in charge of the KGB file on Oswald while he was living in the Soviet Union.
The vast majority of the National Archives collection has been open to the public since the late 1990s.
VOA's Steve Herman contributed to this report