The news from the White House sounded good.
Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
The tweet was probably sincere in expressing Trump’s instinct that all of the government’s long-secret records on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should be made public. The president knows public opinion favors a conspiratorial explanation of the mysterious assassination of the popular liberal president on November 22, 1963.
He knows, too, that the bogus conspiracy theory he floated during the 2016 campaign, smearing the father of Ted Cruz, was effective in attracting attention and harming a rival.
Trump has also heard from friend and confidante Roger Stone, the hard-right political operative who blames the assassination on Lyndon B. Johnson. Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars this week that he personally lobbied Trump to release all of the documents.
But an @POTUS tweet is like a scholarship offer from Trump University. It may have some value, but read the fine print and keep your hand on your purse at all times. Trump’s opening phrase, “Subject to the receipt of further information,” is a tipoff. It signals that if Trump receives new information before the legal deadline of October 26, he might not allow all the records to be made public.
It’s an escape hatch for a man under Deep State pressure.
The Washington Post reports that the National Security Council — meaning National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster—favors postponing release of the JFK files. An NSC official told the Post “that government agencies were urging the president not to release some of the documents.”
My guess is that McMaster will funnel additional information from the CIA and FBI to the Oval Office this week to justify keeping tens of thousands of pages of fully or partially redacted documents out of public view.
A High Bar
McMaster has his work cut out for him. Trump’s populist and public relations instincts push him toward full disclosure. And the legal bar for continued secrecy is high.
The JFK Records Act of 1992 says that the CIA, FBI and other federal agencies can request postponement of the release of records after October 26 if they certify the release will cause “identifiable harm” to U.S. interests and that the harm outweighs the public interest in full disclosure.
There is political support across the political spectrum for full disclosure from Rep. Walter Jones and Sen. Charles Grassley on the right to Sen. Pat Leahy and Rep. Marcy Kaptur on the left.
What will Trump do? The truth is that he probably has not yet made up his mind. So when you read that Trump will release all of the secret JFK files, caveat emptor.