Historians sue Biden for ‘illegally’ withholding 16,000 JFK assassination files: ‘What are they hiding?’

‘They decided to pillory Trump over this issue because he’s a political enemy, but they’re guilty of violating records laws themselves with the JFK records act,’ historian says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 19 October 2022 17:29 BST

Related video: Newsom blocks parole for JFK assassin

The most expansive online directory of information on the assassination of President John F Kennedy has sued the Biden administration and the National Archives in an attempt to make the government publicise all the documents not yet shared concerning the murder in 1963.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by the Mary Ferrell Foundation – one year after President Joe Biden shared a memo delaying the release of the final 16,000 documents relating to the assassination, NBC News reported.

The JFK Records Collection Act of 1992 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The law states that the documents had to be released before 26 October 2017, but the publication of the documents was postponed by Donald Trump, leaving the decision with Mr Biden.

The foundation’s vice president, Jefferson Morley, said that “it’s high time that the government got its act together and obeyed the spirit and the letter of the law”, according to NBC News. “This is about our history and our right to know it.”

Robert Kennedy Jr, son of the 35th president’s brother, told the outlet that “it was a momentous crime, a crime against American democracy. And the American people have the right to know”.

“The law requires the records be released. It’s bizarre. It’s been almost 60 years since my uncle’s death. What are they hiding?” he asked.

A majority of experts on the 22 November 1963 murder believe that the final trove of documents doesn’t include clear evidence that others were behind the shooting alongside accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald, but that the records could add more general information about US Cold War history.

Former CIA agent Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who has lectured about the assassination at Harvard, is critical of his former employer. He believes that the agency had contact with Oswald before the death of Mr Kennedy and that the CIA covered it up.

“What I think happened, in a nutshell, is that Oswald was recruited into a rogue CIA plot,” Mr Mowatt-Larssen told NBC. “This group of three, four or five rogues decided their motive [was] to get rid of Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis because they thought it was their patriotic duty given the threat the country was under at the time and their views, which would be more hard-line or more radically anti-communist and very extreme politically.”

The CIA told NBC that they’re following the JFK Records Act as well as the memo issued by Mr Biden. The memo stated that the documents should be released before 15 December. The National Archives and Records Administration also said that they’re following the records act and the Biden memo.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, arguing that the agencies haven’t acted in accordance with the law and that Mr Biden’s and Mr Trump’s delays violated the legislation from 1992.

The lawsuit argues that Mr Biden’s memo be voided and the documents released as originally intended.

“It’s a ‘dog ate my homework’ argument,” lawyer Bill Simpich, representing the foundation, said of the Biden administration’s notion that the pandemic had delayed the document release.

“This case is all about delay. The agencies always have new and better excuses,” he added.

The legal filing claims that the government illegally redacted 11 records – a memo from 1961 reorganizing the CIA following the failed Bay of Pigs operation, files on three CIA employees with connections to Oswald, a false flag operation outlined by the Defence Department in 1962 for a “violent incident” to take place in US soil to be blamed on Cuba, records on the plans to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and a JFK document taken from the file of Howard Hunt, one of the burglars from the Watergate scandal.

The lawsuit also asks that the court order the National Archives to find documents which are “known to exist but that are not part of the JFK Collection”.

The foundation claims in the lawsuit that one of those documents concerns George Joannides, the chief of covert action at the CIA in Miami, Florida.

He “served as case officer for a New Orleans-based CIA-funded exile group that had a series of encounters with Lee Oswald in 1963”, the lawsuit states.

Historian David Talbot noted to NBC the irony in the DOJ’s and National Archives’ current battle with former President Donald Trump over his handling of classified information and their conduct in relation to the JFK files.

“They decided to pillory Trump over this issue because he’s a political enemy, but they’re guilty of violating records laws themselves with the JFK records act – Trump took documents the federal government owned, but they’re sitting on documents that belong to the American people,” he said.

University of Miami political science professor Joseph Uscinski told NBC that “the whole argument about documents is stupid. The CIA is wrong. All of this should have been released a long time ago, and it’s shameful the government has yet to do so”.

“At the same time, there’s not a document sitting in a government vault somewhere that says, ‘We did it’,” he added.

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