National Archives Releases Thousands of Kennedy Assassination Files

Over 97 percent of documents related to the event are now publicly available

Kennedy speaks in a stadium
President John F. Kennedy delivers remarks at Rice University regarding the nation's efforts in space exploration on September 12, 1962 Courtesy of Cecil Stoughton / White House Photographs /John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Nearly 60 years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Biden administration has released thousands of once-classified records related to the tragedy.

The 46-year-old president’s untimely death on November 22, 1963—and the events surrounding it—have spawned myriad conspiracy theories ever since, many of them centered around the 1964 Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The National Archives yesterday released more than 13,000 documents—and that’s in addition to the nearly 1,500 once-classified documents the archives made public last year. Per a statement from the National Archives, over 97 percent of the records on the assassination are now publicly available.

“This has been a commitment of the president,” says Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, as reported by USA Today’s Ella Lee, Joey Garrison and Josh Meyer. “President Biden believes all information related to President Kennedy’s assassination should be released to the greatest extent possible, consistent with national security.”

The government is still withholding 515 full documents, as well as parts of 2,545 documents. Officials will review the remaining records in the coming months and determine whether anything else can be released by June 2023, reports the Hill’s Zach Schonfeld.

JFK and First Lady at Love Field
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kenney arrive at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Courtesy of Cecil Stoughton / White House Photographs /John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In a memo, Biden writes that the need to keep the records private has “weakened with the passage of time.”

“[The] profound national tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day,” he adds. “... It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States government maximizes transparency by disclosing all information in records concerning the assassination, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.”

A 1992 law required the release of all government records pertaining to the assassination by October 2017, but Biden and President Donald Trump pushed that deadline back. 

The nonprofit Mary Ferrell Foundation, a nonprofit that maintains a large online archive of records related to Kennedy’s death, sued the president and the National Archives in October and argued that the delay was illegal.

“It’s high time that the government got its act together and obeyed the spirit and the letter of the law,” said Jefferson Morley, the foundation’s vice president, to NBC News’ Marc Caputo.

Johnson takes the oath
Judge Sarah T. Hughes administers the Presidential Oath of Office to Lyndon Baines Johnson, who stands next to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, on November 22, 1963. Courtesy of Cecil Stoughton / White House Photographs / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Some of the newly released documents relate to the CIA’s extensive personality file on Oswald, who was a veteran of the Marines. Some pertain to the CIA’s surveillance operation during a trip Oswald took to Mexico City several weeks before he shot the president. 

As Paul LeBlanc and Haley Britzky note for CNN, researchers will need time to analyze the newly released documents in full. But so far, per the Washington Post’s Amy B. Wang and Azi Paybarah, the files do not appear to contain any “explosive new evidence of the decades-old assassination and sweeping fallout that followed.”