Bowing to last-minute pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), President Donald Trump declared Thursday that he had "no choice" but to block the release of thousands of pages of classified documents related to the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy for at least another 180 days, citing unspecified "national security concerns."
"The drama around the release of the documents was like so much of Trump's nine months in power, involving a big promise that he struggled to fulfill and a rush of last-minute chaos inside the White House."
—Stephen Collinson, CNN
Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote on Twitter in response to Trump's announcement that it is "amazing the CIA can get away with claiming it can't release info on a president's death 50 YEARS LATER 'because national security'."
The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Act—signed into law by George H.W. Bush in October 26, 1992—required that the assassination documents be released "no later" than 25 years after the measure's enactment. The law, however, left room for the president to order documents sealed in order to prevent "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations."
In a memo made public just hours before the deadline on Thursday, Trump declared: "I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted."
Then came the crucial caveat: "At the same time, executive departments and 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."
For several days, Trump, who has in the past articulated bizarre theories of his own about Kennedy's assassination, has been attempting to build excitement for the document dump on Twitter. But when the moment finally came, the president only unveiled a select portion of the documents—a move that was denounced and mocked on social media.
54 yrs since #JFK assassination, 25 yrs since mandated release TODAY, and we’ll have to wait another 6 months to MAYBE see the good stuff.— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) October 26, 2017
"The drama around the release of the documents was like so much of Trump's nine months in power, involving a big promise that he struggled to fulfill and a rush of last-minute chaos inside the White House," concluded CNN's Stephen Collinson. "Cynics have suggested all along that the spy agencies would intervene to leave at least some of the historical record surrounding the assassination obscured. They were right. With the clock ticking down to the deadline on Thursday, the spooks jammed the White House with hundreds of last-minute requests for redactions."