Has Trump Cut a Deal with the CIA and FBI to Keep Concealing Key JFK Assassination Documents?

Plans for full disclosure by October 26 deadline are "in flux," says National Archives.

Photo Credit: Financial Post

An unknown number of U.S government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 54 years ago may remain secret after the legal deadline of October 26, the National Archives said Monday.

"While we continue to plan for an online release by the deadline, it is unclear what will be part of the release,” the Archive’s communications staff said in a statement to AlterNet. “Things are in flux.”

The Archive’s statement is the first official acknowledgement that President Trump is considering—or has approved—formal requests from the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal agencies to keep long-secret JFK files out of public view.

Earlier this month, a group of senior congress members challenged the continuing secrecy around the government’s JFK records, some of which are more than 50 years old.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), introduced House and Senate resolutions calling on Trump to order the release of all the government's JFK files. The resolution urges the president to "reject any claims for the continued postponement" of the records.

The non-binding resolutions, offered by two conservative Republicans, were also endorsed by four veteran liberal Democrats: Sen. Pat Leahy, and Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.).

“I am proud to cosponsor Chairman Grassley’s resolutions calling on the Trump administration to publicly disclose all government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—as required by a 1992 law authored by my good friend, the late Sen. [John] Glenn,” Leahy said in a statement. “The assassination of President Kennedy was one of the most shocking and tragic events in our nation’s history.  Americans have the right to know what our government knows."

Federal judge John Tunheim, who chaired a civilian board that oversaw the release of four million pages of JFK records in the 1990s, told a Minnesota radio station last week," it’s time to release everything." 

With the Archives' plans “in flux,” that time might not yet have come.

Law and Loophole

The JFK Records Act, approved unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in October 1992, requires all government records related to the assassination be made public within 25 years. But one provision of the law exempts from mandatory disclosure any JFK records for which 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;
  • and the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

So if the Archives staff is uncertain which JFK documents will be released later this month, the agencies have advised the president that release of specific documents would cause “identifiable harm" to U.S. interests that outweigh any interest in public disclosure.  

As Politico's Bryan Bender has explained, the last of the JFK records "may embarass the CIA."

What Are They Hiding?

Researchers for the Mary Farrell Foundation, which has the largest online repository of JFK assassination records, scraped the National Archives database of JFK records earlier this year. Our keyword analysis, published in Newsweek, yielded new insight into what the government is stlll concealing, including:

  • Approximately 700 pages of secret material from the files of two high-ranking CIA officers, William K. Harvey and David Phillips, who ran assassination operations in the 1960s. Both men were open in their contempt for JFK's Cuba policy.
  • The records of two undercover officers, Howard Hunt and David Morales, both of whom later made statements to family members that seemed to implicate themselves (and CIA personnel) in the murder of the liberal president in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
  • A transcript of the closed-door testimony of CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton to Senate investigators in September 1975. As I document in my forthcoming biography of Angleton, his staff monitored the movements of  accused assassin Lee Oswald from November 1959 through November 1963.

Oswald denied shooting Kennedy; 24 hours later, he was killed in police custody.

The assassination of President Kennedy, one of the most shocking and enigmatic events in American history, remains the subject of continuing popular fascination. The story has generated countless conspiracy theories, most of them easily disproved, while a handful remain quite plausible.

What Have We Learned?

The Archives statment to AlterNet did not identify which agencies are seeking to keep JFK records under wrap or which documents will remain secret.

“In regards to any possible postponement requests, because agency appeals are not public, we cannot share that information,” the Archives statement said.

On Monday, a CIA spokesperson deflected questions about the postponement of the CIA's JFK records with the same boilerplate statement issued two weeks ago: "CIA continues to engage in the process to determine the appropriate next steps with respect to the any previously unreleased CIA information."

In July, the National Archives released the first batch of longest-held JFK files, which generated a bumper crop of revelations about the CIA’s role in the JFK story, published in AlterNet, WhoWhatWhy, the Washington Post, and Politico.

As I wrote on AlterNet, four revelations collectively pour cold water on the “KGB did it” conspiracy theory, while raising questions about the “Castro done it" theory. Mostly, the new files illuminated how the CIA resisted investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald and his Cuban connections after JFK was killed.

What Happens Next?

If Trump and White House counsel Donald McGahn have agreed to requests from the CIA and other federal agencies to keep some JFK records secret, they will have to explain why,

The JFK Records Act requires the government to publish “an unclassified written description of the reason for such postponement” in the Federal Register, the daily newspaper of the U.S. government. 

The CIA spokesperson did not answer a question about whether the CIA would comply with this provision of the law.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press, October 2017).

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