US President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered the unveiling of 2,800 documents relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in an effort to comply with a 1992 law mandating the documents' release, but acquiesced to pressure from national security agencies that some of those records remain secret.
Congress had ordered in 1992 that all remaining sealed files pertaining to the investigation into Kennedy’s death should be fully opened to the public through the National Archives in 25 years, by Oct. 26, 2017, except for those the president authorized for further withholding.
Trump had confirmed on Saturday that he would allow for the release of the final batch of once-classified records, amounting to tens of thousands of pages, “subject to the receipt of further information.”
But as the deadline neared, the administration decided at the last minute to stagger the final release over the next 180 days while government agencies studied whether any documents should stay sealed or redacted.
The law allows the president to keep material under wraps if it is determined that harm to intelligence operations, national defense, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations would outweigh the public’s interest in full disclosure.
More than 2,800 uncensored documents were posted immediately to the National Archives website on Thursday evening - a staggering, disparate cache that news outlets began poring through seeking new insights into a tragedy that has been endlessly dissected for decades by investigators, scholars and conspiracy theorists.
The rest will be released “on a rolling basis,” with “redactions in only the rarest of circumstances,” by the end of the review on April 26, 2018, the White House said in a statement.
In a memo to government agency heads, Trump said the American people deserved as much access as possible to the records.
“Therefore, I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted,” he wrote, adding that he had no choice but to accept the requested redactions for now.
Trump gave agencies six months -- until April 26, 2018 -- to make their case for why the remaining documents should not be made public.
"At the end of that period, I will order the public disclosure of any information that the agencies cannot demonstrate meets the statutory standard for continued postponement of disclosure," he said.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo was a lead advocate in arguing to the White House for keeping some materials secret, one senior administration official said.
While Kennedy was killed over half a century ago, the document file included material from investigations during the 1970s through the 1990s. Intelligence and law enforcement officials argued their release could thus put at risk some more recent “law enforcement equities” and other materials that still have relevance, the official said.
Trump was resistant but “acceded to it with deep insistence that this stuff is going to be reviewed and released in the next six months,” the official added.
Kennedy scholars have said the documents were unlikely to contain any bombshell revelations or put to rest the rampant conspiracy theories about the assassination. They expected that nothing in the final batch of files would alter the official conclusion of investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin who fired on the president’s open limousine that day in Dallas from an upper window of the Texas Book Depository building overlooking the motorcade route.
One of the documents included a transcript of a November 24, 1963 conversation with J. Edgar Hoover, who was FBI director at the time.
Hoover said the FBI informed police of a threat against the life of Oswald the night before he was killed. But police did not act on it, Hoover said.
The Warren Commission, which investigated the shooting of the charismatic Kennedy, 46, determined that Oswald, a former Marine sharpshooter, carried out the Kennedy assassination acting alone.
Experts agreed, however, that the documents may shed some light on an intriguing chapter in Oswald's life -- his trip to Mexico City about seven weeks before the slaying where he is known to have met with Cuban and Soviet spies.
The CIA and FBI may be blocking the release of certain documents to hide their own failings, said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia and the author of "The Kennedy Half Century."
"They had every indication that Oswald was a misfit and a sociopath," he said.
But neither agency informed the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president, he said.
Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 but returned to the United States in 1962.
He was shot to death two days after killing Kennedy by a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, as he was being transferred from the city jail.
The released files are vast in number and scope, covering everything from FBI directors' memos to interviews with members of the public in Dallas who came forward trying to provide clues after that singularly unforgettable moment in US history.
Some date into the 1970s and included handwritten official notes which are hard to read.
Of the roughly 5 million pages of JFK assassination-related records held by the National Archives, 88 percent have been available to the public without restriction since the late 1990s, and 11 percent more have been released with sensitive portions redacted. Only about 1 percent have remain withheld in full, according to the National Archives.
Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a string of politically motivated killings, including those of his brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., that stunned the United States during the turbulent 1960s. He remains one of the most admired US presidents.