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White House delays the release of secret JFK assassination records, citing COVID-19

The White House has announced that a trove of remaining records concerning the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy will not be released as planned, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress declared in 1992 that all government records surrounding Kennedy's assassination "should be eventually disclosed to enable the public to become fully informed about the history surrounding the assassination."

But a part of that law also says that the release of these records can be postponed if their public disclosure would cause "identifiable harm" to military, intelligence, law enforcement or foreign operations.

The National Archives says it needs more time

In a memo released Friday, the White House said the National Archives and Records Administration has concluded that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it requires additional time to consult with government agencies to determine how much more information about the 1963 assassination can be released.

According to the memo, the archivist of the United States has told the White House that "making these decisions is a matter that requires a professional, scholarly, and orderly process; not decisions or releases made in haste."

Instead, the archivist and White House have agreed that the full disclosure of these records will be postponed until Dec. 15, 2022. If there is information that the archivist and agencies examines that does not need to be postponed, that will be released on Dec. 15, 2021.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump pledged to release all the remaining documents on the Kennedy assassination. But in 2018, he reversed course and delayed the release, citing national security concerns.

The White House wants to eventually digitize all the records

Friday's memo also outlines how the records from the Kennedy assassination can be made more readily available to the public. More than 250,000 records have already been fully released, but many are only available to view at a National Archives facility in College Park, Md., near Washington D.C.

Now, the White House has asked the archivist to draft a plan that will digitize the records and make the entire collection available to view online.

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Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.