President Donald Trump wanted more of the documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination released. But when the final requests from government agencies hit his desk on Thursday, there wasn’t enough time to go through the hundreds of records the agencies wanted to keep secret, two US officials said.
As the deadline ticked away, Trump was confronted with a choice: release all of the 3,100 records without any redactions, or accept the redactions of intelligence and law enforcement agencies and release 2,800 of those documents.
Trump agreed to the second option, while also requiring agencies to conduct a secondary review of the information they believed should be redacted within 180 days. But Trump was still miffed by his decision.
“He was unhappy with the level of redactions,” a White House official said, adding that Trump believed the agencies were “not meeting the spirit of the law.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday night that Trump “has demanded unprecedented transparency from the agencies and directed them to minimize redactions without delay.”
Trump’s final decision came at the end of a months-long review of the remaining 3,100 classified records relating to the Kennedy assassination, during which tensions flared between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the National Archives and Records Administration over what information should be withheld from the public.
But the fight rose to the Oval Office on Thursday as several national security agencies made last-minute appeals to the President to accept their redactions and, in some cases, withhold all documents related to their agency, a White House official said.
The requests – at the 11th hour of a 25-year deadline – resulted in what a senior US official described as a “messy” process leading up to the deadline, with the White House still fielding requests from certain agencies into the middle of the day on Thursday.
That left Trump’s aides scrambling to funnel all of the information to the President, who had only hours to decide how to proceed.
While Trump agreed that the identities of confidential informants who are still alive, for example, should not be released, he believed more information should be made available to the public, officials said.
Now, the agencies whose documents remained secret in part on Thursday will have as much as five months to conduct a secondary review of the documents to make a final case to the US Archivist for why they believe they should remain secret.
Trump will then have a month to review the requests and by April 26, 2018, “will order the public disclosure of any information that the agencies cannot demonstrate meets the statutory standard for continued postponement of disclosure,” according to a memorandum he released Thursday.
“Any agency that seeks to request further postponement beyond this temporary certification shall adhere to the findings of the act, which state, among other things, that ‘only in the rarest cases is there any legitimate need for continued protection of such records,’” Trump writes. “Accordingly, each agency head should be extremely circumspect in recommending any further postponement of full disclosure of records.”