BOSTON – For decades, the existence of secret government files linked to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination has helped fuel conspiracy theories that others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in his murder. Now the public is going to get a deeper look at the collection.
The government is required by Thursday to release the final batch of files related to Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. 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.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the files:
How many files are there and how can I see them?
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. The National Archives is planning to post the files on its website.
Will all of them be released?
It’s unclear exactly how many files will be released. President Donald Trump is the only person who can stop any of the documents from becoming public and he’s not tipping his hand. On Wednesday, the eve of their scheduled release, Trump tweeted: “The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow. So interesting!”
On Saturday, he had tweeted that – “subject to the receipt of further information” – he will allow the “long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.”
The CIA and FBI, whose files make up the bulk of the final batch, have refused to say whether they’re lobbying the president to keep any of the files under wraps. Experts expect certain IRS files to remain secret, like the tax return of Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald two days after Kennedy’s assassination when the suspect was in police custody.
Why are they becoming public now?
President George H.W. Bush signed a law on Oct. 26, 1992, requiring that all documents related to the assassination be released within 25 years, unless the president says doing so would harm intelligence, law enforcement, military operations or foreign relations. The push for transparency was driven in part by the uproar in the wake of Oliver Stone’s 1991 conspiracy-theory filled film “JFK.”
Will there be any bombshells?
The chances are slim, according to the judge who led the independent board that reviewed and released thousands of the assassination documents in the 1990s. The files that were withheld in full were those the Assassination Records Review Board deemed “not believed relevant,” Judge John Tunheim of Minnesota told the Associated Press. But Tunheim said it’s possible the files contain information the board didn’t realize was important two decades ago.
JFK experts believe the files will provide insight into the inner workings of the CIA and FBI. But they stress that it will take weeks to mine the documents for potentially new and interesting information.
What will the files show?
Some of the documents are related to Oswald’s mysterious six-day trip to Mexico City right before the assassination, scholars say. Oswald said he was visiting the Cuban and Soviet Union embassies there to get visas, but much about his time there remains unknown.
The to-be-released documents contain details about the arrangements the U.S. entered into with the Mexican government that allowed it to have close surveillance of those and other embassies, Tunheim said. Other files scholars hope will be released in full include an internal CIA document on its Mexico City station, and a report on Oswald’s trip from staffers of the House committee that investigated the assassination.
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