The White House said on October 22nd that it would delay the release of long-classified documents related to the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. President Joe Biden wrote in a statement that the remaining files “shall be withheld from full public disclosure” until December 15 next year — nearly 60 years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas in 1963.
In 2017, former president Donald Trump released several thousand secret files on the assassination, but withheld others on national security grounds. The White House said the national archivist needs more time for a review into that redaction, which was slowed by the pandemic.
Biden also said the delay was “necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations” and that this “outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure.”
The assassination of the 46-year-old president was a “profound national tragedy” that “continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day,” the statement said.
A 10-month investigation led by then-Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine who had lived in the Soviet Union, acted alone when he fired on Kennedy’s motorcade.
But the Commission’s investigation was criticized for being incomplete, with a Congressional committee later concluding that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”
U.S. law requires that all government records on the assassination be disclosed “to enable the public to become fully informed.” The National Archives has released thousands of documents to the public as part of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, informally known as the JFK Act. The files are accessible online.
“Temporary continued postponement is necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure,” the president said.
Biden said some documents will be released on Dec. 15 of this year, but not earlier “out of respect for the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination,” which took place Nov. 22, 1963. The remaining documents will undergo an “intensive 1-year review” and be released by Dec. 15, 2022.
Under the 1992 John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, all assassination records should have been publicly disclosed within 25 years – or by October 2017 – but postponements were allowed in instances that national security concerns outweighed the public interest in disclosure. The National Archives notes about 88 percent of the records have been released since the late 1990s.
Earlier this month, some members of Congress wrote to Biden urging him to fully release all of the JFK files, including 520 documents that remain withheld from the public and 15,834 documents that were previously released but are partially or mostly redacted. The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo of California, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Sara Jacobs of California, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.
“Democracy requires that decisions made by the government be open to public scrutiny,” the lawmakers wrote. “Yet excessive secrecy surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination continues to inspire doubt in the minds of the American public and has a profound impact on the people’s trust in their government.”