• The federal government just released thousands of documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
• The papers were posted online by the National Archives in compliance with a 1992 law requiring their release after 25 years.
• After a chaotic last-minute review in which intelligence agencies lobbied against full disclosure, the White House said it would take more time to process and release thousands more documents that were also supposed to be made public. It set a deadline of late April for the release of those documents.
Citing security concerns, Trump held back some of the documents.
The papers were being posted online by the National Archives and Records Administration in compliance with a 1992 law requiring their release after 25 years. But President Trump agreed to postpone the release of thousands more files that were supposed to be made public, pending a review that should end on April 26.
From Mr. Trump’s memorandum:
The American public expects — and deserves — its Government to provide as much access as possible to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records (records) so that the people may finally be fully informed about all aspects of this pivotal event. Therefore, I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted. At the same time, executive departments and agencies (agencies) have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns. I have no choice — today — but to accept those redactions rather than allow potentially irreversible harm to our Nation’s security. To further address these concerns, I am also ordering agencies to re-review each and every one of those redactions over the next 180 days. 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 under section 5(g) (2)(D) of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (44 U.S.C. 2107 note) (the “Act”).
The decision to postpone the release of some documents will invariably lead to suspicions that the government is still protecting secrets about the case. Administration officials said there was no cover-up, just an effort to avoid compromising national security, law enforcement or intelligence gathering methods.
Researchers found a treasure trove of ‘obscure clues’ and ‘shiny objects.’
Larry J. Sabato, the founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, and a team of researchers were reviewing the files on Thursday night. He sent a report of what they had found so far:
As expected, these incomplete raw files are, often, a mess. Handwritten notes from the C.I.A. and others are often illegible. It will take an enormous amount of work and lots of time to put this together. Think of this as an unassembled million-piece puzzle.
Since the good stuff has mainly been withheld for now — or forever — we are primarily looking for obscure clues and shiny objects. Here, the files do not disappoint. In no particular order, our research team at the University of Virginia found these intriguing documents:
• Mexico was a cooperative partner with the United States in many ways — from helping to wiretap the Soviet and Cuban Embassies well prior to the assassination, to thorough attempts to investigate Lee Harvey Oswald’s ties in the country after Kennedy’s murder. Sources told the C.I.A. that Oswald had deposited $5,000 in a Mexican bank. In a document dated March 9, 1964, Mexico was reported to have traced all deposits in Mexican banks, looking for the money. They found no such Oswald transaction.
• The F.B.I. closely monitored the activities of attorney and conspiracy advocate Mark Lane, who was representing Marguerite Oswald, mother of Lee. According to an F.B.I. source, a bizarre meeting Mr. Lane had with a Polish journalist in January 1964 saw wild conspiracy theories tossed around, including a ridiculous claim in a far-right Italian newspaper that J.D. Tippit, the Dallas policeman killed by Oswald shortly after Oswald shot Kennedy, was the real presidential assassin — and that Jack Ruby had killed Mr. Tippit.
• A C.I.A. document alleges that Oswald may have been accompanied on his mysterious September 1963 trip to Mexico City by “El Mexicano.” According to another document, “El Mexicano” is believed to have been Francisco Rodriguez Tamayo, the captain of Cuban Rebel Army 57 until he defected to the United States in June of 1959. A third file also identifies Rodriguez Tamayo as the head of the anti-Castro Training Camp at Pontchartrain, La.
No doubt there are thousands of tantalizing tidbits. But are they true? How do they augment our current knowledge, if at all? Do they somehow help us to answer the larger questions about the assassination? These are questions we should ask as we examine this treasure trove.
— Larry J. Sabato
Dr. Sabato is the author or editor of two dozen books on American politics. Dr. Sabato was the editor and lead author of the recent book “Trumped,” which explores the 2016 election.
A memo from J. Edgar Hoover captures the drama of the days after Kennedy’s death.
Some of the long-withheld documents convey some of the drama and chaos of the days immediately after the murder of the president. Among them is a memo apparently dictated by J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. director, on Nov. 24, 1963, shortly after Jack Ruby fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald as Oswald was moved from one jail to another.
“There is nothing further on the Oswald case except that he is dead,” the memo begins laconically before reciting the day’s events.
Referring to Nicholas Katzenbach, then the deputy attorney general, Mr. Hoover expresses anxiety that the killing of the suspected assassin may spur undesirable doubts among Americans.
“The thing I am concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,” Mr. Hoover says. The F.B.I. director discussed his agents’ early findings — a call Oswald had made to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City and a letter he had sent to the Soviet Embassy in Washington — and says they could “complicate our foreign relations.”
Mr. Hoover calls the killing of Oswald “inexcusable” in light of “our warnings to the Dallas Police Department” and hints at Ruby’s mob connections, which would soon spawn an industry of research and speculation: “We have no information on Ruby that is firm, although there are some rumors of underworld activity in Chicago.”
— Scott Shane
The files contain a variety of material.
Paging through the documents on Thursday night was a little like exploring a box of random documents found in an attic. There are fuzzy images of C.I.A. surveillance photos from the early 1960s; a log from December 1963 of visitors, including a C.I.A. officer, to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch in Texas; and a White House memo from 1965 discussing how the F.B.I. and the Secret Service should collaborate on presidential protection.
An April 1964 F.B.I. cablerecounts Oswald’s bus trip to Mexico in October 1963, including the names of the people sitting around him and his clothing: “a short-sleeved light colored sport shirt and no coat.” From the 1970s, there are reports on interviews conducted by the House Select Committee on Assassinations with retired F.B.I. agents. The agents had interviewed mobsters with C.I.A. ties and Cuban exiles in Florida who might have encountered Oswald.
— Scott Shane
A memo from Hoover pointed to Kremlin suspicions that Johnson was behind the assassination.
Mr. Hoover sent a memo to the White House more than three years after the assassination summarizing information in the F.B.I.’s files about how the Soviet government responded to Kennedy’s death.
One passage of the memo notes that Johnson was considered virtually unknown to the Soviet leaders, and that their intelligence agencies suspected his involvement in the assassination:
Our source added that “now” the K.G.B. was in possession of data purporting to indicate President Johnson was responsible for the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy.
The memo, which Mr. Hoover notes was not “furnished to the Acting Attorney General,” Ramsey Clark, opens by saying that the news was met with “shock and consternation” and that church bells tolled in the president’s memory.
The intelligence, some of which was gathered by a source who was inside Russia when Kennedy was assassinated, details how Communist Party leaders believed the killing was part of an “ultraright” conspiracy to “effect a ‘coup.’” Soviet officials also claimed not to have a connection with Oswald.
In the days after the assassination, according to the memo, the K.G.B. focused its attention on gathering information about the new president, Johnson, who “was practically unknown to the Soviet Government.”
— Mikayla Bouchard