Once again Donald Trump is frazzling the custodians of civil discourse. His use of an unfounded JFK conspiracy theory to jab now-defeated rival Ted Cruz is much lamented on the internet. Trump’s “pants are on fire.” Trump “refuses to apologize.” Trump is peddling “tabloid garbage.”
But dismissing JFK’s assassination as a trivial subject is one mistake that Donald Trump does not make. His gambit is an old story in American culture. With his intuitive media personality, Trump is drawn, moth-like, to an eternal flame of American culture: the JFK story.
Never do our most skillful culture makers let this flame be extinguished. Stephen King gives us 11.22.63. Natalie Portman gives us “Jackie.” Donald Trump gives us “Rafael Cruz Linked to JFK Assassination.”
The JFK reflections of the presumptive Republican nominee, while erroneous, are not unprecedented, nor unimportant.
What Presidents Said
At least five previous inhabitants of the Oval Office have mused about the assassination of the 35th president.
- The assassination of JFK prompted former president One Harry Truman to call for the abolition of the CIA.
- Publicly, President Lyndon Johnson endorsed the official theory that a “lone gunman” had killed his predecessor. Privately, LBJ “never believed” Oswald acted alone.
- Richard Nixon obsessed about “the Bay of Pigs thing,” which aides thought might be a coded reference to JFK’s death. But in a tense 1971 meeting, Nixon told CIA director Richard Helms he didn’t care “Who shot John.”
- Gerald Ford, as a member of the Warren Commission, edited the description of JFK’s back wound in the commission’s final report to bolster the so-called “single bullet theory more than the evidence warranted
- Bill Clinton, campaigning for president in 1992, said he believed JFK was killed by a conspiracy. When he moved into the White House, he changed his mind.
The issue facing the next president–and those who will vote for him or her– is not “Who killed JFK?”
The issue in 2016 is “Who will kill JFK secrecy?”
Within a year of taking the oath of office President Trump (or President Clinton) will have to make some decisions about a huge trove ancient U.S. government records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
The issue will come to a head as October 25, 2017 approaches. That is the date that the 1992 JFK Records Act requires the government to release all of its records related to JFK assassination.
Thanks to WhoWhatWhy, Politico, JFK Facts and other news outlets, the people of the internet have obtained a lot of verifiable data about these records and what they might tell us about the JFK story.
The National Archives has identified some 3,600 JFK files, comprising perhaps 15,000 pages of material, that are supposed to be released in October 2017.
Of perhaps most interest to JFK assassination scholars are 1,100 CIA files, which have never been made public. Martha Murphy, a senior official at the National Archives in College Park Maryland says her staff is now processing this material in expectation it will be released in October 2017.
But the JFK Records has a loophole and the loophole is what makes the political issue of 2016.
The CIA (and other government agencies) have the right, under the JFK Records Act, to postpone release of these records past October 2017 for reasons of “national security.”
Given the CIA’s culture and track record, the safest presumption is that the agency will ask for select portions of this material to remain secret.
When Hillary Clinton was asked about JFK assassination records in the 2008 campaign, she advocated full disclosure but added a “national security” loophole that rendered her pledge all but meaningless. CIA officials have have used bogus claims of “national security” to hide material evidence related to JFK’s murder since the day the crime occurred. In other words, Clinton has promised to allow them to do the same in 2017 if they wish.
On the issue of JFK records, Trump’s position is unknown and his theories are irrelevant. What matters is the answer to the question:
What will President Donald Trump do about the release of JFK records in his first term?
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