Waiting, waiting ... for release of JFK files - KMOV.com

Waiting, waiting ... for release of JFK files

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(AP/Meredith Images) (AP/Meredith Images)

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

Much of Thursday passed with nothing from the White House or National Archives except silence, leaving unclear how the government would comply with a law requiring the records to come out by the end of the day — or whether President Donald Trump had been persuaded by intelligence agencies to hold some back.

No blockbusters were expected in the last trove of secret files from Kennedy's assassination Nov. 22, 1963, given a statement months ago by the Archives that it assumed the records, then under preparation, would be "tangential" to what's known about the killing.

But 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, if the material adds little to the record.

Researchers were frustrated by the uncertainty surrounding the release and wondering if the government would end up in violation of the law.

"The government has had 25 years_with a known end-date_to prepare #JFKfiles for release," University of Virginia historian Larry Sabato tweeted in the afternoon. "Deadline is here. Chaos."

Asked what he meant, Sabato emailed to say: "Contradictory signals were given all day. Trump's tweets led us to believe that disclosure was ready to go. Everybody outside government was ready to move quickly."

Trump was under pressure from intelligence agencies to keep some files off limits, as he is permitted to do under certain circumstances by the 1992 law.

It was unclear if Trump had made a final decision on any of the recommendations made by the intelligence agencies or any other government agency that had files related to the assassination.

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

Interest in the release 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.

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.

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.

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

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