Will JFK files answer questions? Probably not all

Published 5:02 pm Thursday, October 26, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scholars and sleuths are waiting — and waiting — to leap on the release of John F. Kennedy assassination files.

The National Archives was due to spill remaining secrets from that crucible of history Thursday, unless President Donald Trump was persuaded by intelligence agencies to hold some back. A law from 25 years ago requires the government to put the thousands of documents out by this date, though some may stay hidden.

For historians, it’s a chance to answer lingering questions, put some unfounded conspiracy theories to rest, perhaps give life to other theories — or none of that.

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No blockbusters are expected, but who knows? The Archives said earlier this year that while it can’t judge the relevancy of such documents, it assumed they would be “tangential” to what’s known about President Kennedy’s killing in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Still, interest is intense, and it’s possible that as this chapter of history comes alive, it might quickly fall back into temporary invisibility. Servers are bound to be stressed by people looking for the online-only files. Some non-government websites specializing in JFK records were difficult to access Thursday morning, before anything came out.

Trump was a bit coy about the release on the eve of it, tweeting: “The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow. So interesting!”

Experts say the publication of the last trove of evidence could help allay suspicions of a conspiracy — at least for some.

“As long as the government is withholding documents like these, it’s going to fuel suspicion that there is a smoking gun out there about the Kennedy assassination,” said Patrick Maney, a presidential historian at Boston College.

The collection includes more than 3,100 documents — comprising hundreds of thousands of pages — that have never been seen by the public. About 30,000 documents were released previously — with redactions.

Experts said intelligence agencies pushed Trump to keep some of the remaining materials secret — the CIA didn’t comment on that.

“Clearly there are documents, plural, files, plural, being appealed to him,” University of Virginia historian Larry Sabato, an authority on Kennedy, said of the pressure on Trump. “I’m told reliably that it continues and that it has intensified.” The historian said documents generated in the 1990s that could contain the names of people who are still alive are of particular concern to those who want files held back.

Whatever details are released, they’re not expected to give a definitive answer to a question that still lingers for some: Whether anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was involved in the assassination.

The Warren Commission in 1964 reported that Oswald had been the lone gunman, and another congressional probe in 1979 found no evidence to support the theory that the CIA had been involved. But other interpretations, some more creative than others, have persisted.

The 1992 law mandating release of the JFK documents states that all the files “shall be publicly disclosed in full” within 25 years — that means by Thursday — unless the president certifies that “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military defense; intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations.”

That doesn’t allow the president, for example, to hold some records back because they might be embarrassing to agencies or people.

“In any release of this size, there always are embarrassing details,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor at Rice University.

The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance, saying only that House and Senate committees are responsible for oversight of the collection.


Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Calvin Woodward in Washington contributed to this report.