WASHINGTON — Like many Americans his age, Donald Trump shared an interest in the mysterious assassination of President John F. Kennedy. So much so that soon after taking office he pledged, as a Washington outsider, to order the release of all related documents kept secret in government vaults.
Now weeks away from leaving office, it appears he'll leave that task of historical interest and significance to President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump came to office with a flair for television and how to build audience suspense. And given the numerous documentaries and the hit 1991 movie "JFK" by director Oliver Stone, the promised release of decades-old secret documents had all the makings of a suspense thriller. It portended critical information for historians and could quench a thirst for interested baby boomers.
"Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened," Trump announced with fanfare in an unexpected tweet on Oct. 21, 2017, just nine months into his term.
But soon after the bombshell, Trump partially retreated.
Roughly 35,000 documents were declassified but many were still partially redacted, meaning the entire document was not released for public view. At the request of the CIA and FBI, Trump delayed full declassification for another six months. More than five decades after an assassin's bullet felled a president full of promise, government infighting continued to keep from the light information long shrouded in mystery.
Then in April 2018, the declassification fell short of promise again. Some 19,045 documents were released, but 15,584 had some information that could be withheld through 2021. In a statement, Trump left the door open for earlier release of complete information.
"I agree with the Archivist's recommendation that the continued withholdings are necessary to protect against identifiable harm to national security, law enforcement, or foreign affairs that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure," the president said. "I am also ordering agencies to re-review each of those redactions over the next 3 years. At any time during that review period, and no later than the end of that period, agencies shall disclose information that no longer warrants continued withholding."
There is nothing to prevent an earlier release, but the National Archives have added no new public documents since April 2018.
The Kennedy assassination documents must be fully declassified by Oct. 26, 2021. That would allow the incoming Biden administration to be the one that boasts it made the JFK files completely open to the public more than 57 years after the fateful day in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.