Watch CBS News

Some JFK Assassination Files Released; Trump Holds Back Others

WASHINGTON D.C. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- In 1991, Oliver Stone made a movie called JFK, which was chock full of assassination conspiracy theories.

The film triggered controversy and drew criticism for Stone.

Critics said he played it fast and loose with facts, but the film undoubtedly inspired Congress. A law was passed requiring that in 25 years, classified documents related to the case would be released -- and those 25 years are now up.

Thus, the National Archives has released some of the long-secret records. But President Donald Trump acted Thursday to block the release some the hundreds of records on the John F. Kennedy assassination of Nov. 22, 1963 -- bending to CIA and FBI appeals to keep those secrets.

"I have no choice," Trump said in a memo, according to White House officials. He was placing those files under a six-month review while letting 2,800 other records come out Thursday evening, racing a deadline to honor a law mandating their release.

Officials said Trump would impress upon federal agencies that JFK files should stay secret after the six-month review "only in the rarest cases."

to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have already been released in full. Many of the records contain multiple pages.

In a statement Thursday evening, the agency said none of the 18,000 remaining records will be withheld in full and that the redacted -- or blacked out -- parts of these remaining records represent less than 1 percent of the total CIA information in the assassination-related documents.

The CIA said the redactions were made to protect information that, if released, would harm national security. The agency says the redactions hide the names of CIA assets and former and current CIA officers as well as specific intelligence methods and partnerships that remain viable to protect national security.

Meanwhile, there were questions about whether the documents would reveal anything new.

"His face was almost touching Mrs. Kennedy's face," secret service agent Clint Hill said.

Hill was in the motorcade that day. The question he wants answered about the assassination is 'why?'

"Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter. He acted alone. Perhaps somewhere in this material will give us some idea as to the motive, as to why," he said.

Oswald was fatally shot himself by Jack Ruby, while being transferred from jail. His killing was infamously broadcast on live television.

The Warren Commission in 1964 reported that Oswald had been the lone gunman, and another congressional probe in 1979 found no evidence to support the theory that the CIA had been involved. But other interpretations, some more creative than others, have persisted.

Jim Leavelle, now 97, doesn't think much will change.

"Lotta people gonna be disappointed I think," he said. "They think they're gonna find a new suspect, they are not gonna find it."

So much still remains a mystery.

"These are government reports written for other government officials," author Phil Shenon said.

Shenon wrote a best-seller about the killings. He hopes the material will shed light on a trip that Oswald took to Mexico City weeks before the assassination.

"The question in the back of my mind, has always been, didn't the CIA know much more about what was going on with Oswald in Mexico City? Didn't they suspect he was a much bigger threat, and why didn't they warn Washington at the time?" he said.

A statement months ago by the Archives also said it assumed the records, then under preparation, would be "tangential" to what's known about the killing.

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 adds 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."

Asked what he meant, Sabato emailed to say: "Contradictory signals were given all day. Trump's tweets led us to believe that disclosure was ready to go. Everybody outside government was ready to move quickly."

Trump had been a bit coy about the scheduled release on the eve of it, tweeting: "The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow. So interesting!"
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.

The collection includes more than 3,100 records — comprising hundreds of thousands of pages — that have never been seen by the public. About 30,000 documents were released previously — with redactions.

Experts said intelligence agencies pushed Trump to keep some of the remaining materials secret — the CIA didn't comment on that.

So far it has been learned that documents include details of the government's efforts to overthrow the Castro regime, and Castro's denial to a visiting congressional committee that he had anything to do with the assassination.

The White House has set a date of April 2018 for the release of withheld documents.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.