JFK files: Thousands released but some held back

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump blocked the release of hundreds of records on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, bending to CIA and FBI appeals, while the National Archives came out Thursday night with a hefty cache of others.

“I have no choice,” Trump said in a memo, citing “potentially irreversible harm” to national security if he were to allow all records to come out now. He placed those files under a six-month review while letting 2,800 others come out, racing a deadline to honor a law mandating their release.

The documents approved for release show federal agents madly chasing after tips, however thin, in the days after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination and juggling rumors and leads worldwide. The materials also cast a wide net over varied activities of the Kennedy administration, such as its covert efforts to upend Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba.

In a Sept. 14, 1962, meeting disclosed in the files, for example, a group of Kennedy’s senior aides, including brother Robert, the attorney general, discussed a range of options against Castro’s communist government.

The meeting was told the CIA would look into the possibility of sabotaging airplane parts that were to be shipped to Cuba from Canada. McGeorge Bundy, JFK’s national security adviser, cautioned that sensitive ideas like sabotage would have to be considered in more detail on a case-by-case basis.

As for the unreleased documents, officials say Trump will impress upon federal agencies that “only in the rarest cases” should JFK files stay secret after the six-month review.

Despite having months to prepare for disclosures that have been set on the calendar for 25 years, Trump’s decision came down to a last-minute debate with intelligence agencies — a tussle the president then prolonged by calling for still more review.

In the meantime, experts will be poring through a mountain of minutiae in search of significant revelations.

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 — unless Trump was persuaded by intelligence agencies to hold some back.

White House officials said the FBI and CIA made the most requests within the government to withhold some information.

No blockbusters had been expected in the last trove of secret files regarding Kennedy’s assassination, 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 shooting.

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 should add little to the record.

Researchers were frustrated by the uncertainty that surrounded the release for much of the day.

“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.”

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