President Biden late Friday signed an order again delaying the public release of records related to the assassination of President Kennedy, saying the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the review process.
Mr. Biden wrote in a memo that the pandemic has halted the government’s ability to decide whether proposed redactions meet the “statutory standard.”
The National Archives and Records Administration earlier this year ruled that the pandemic has had a “significant impact on [government] agencies” and it needed more to research the material and “maximize” the information released about the assassination.
The National Archives requested the delay because classified material cannot be reviewed remotely so the declassification effort was severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By delaying the release, Mr. Biden wrote, it gives the government more time to review sensitive information to “protect against identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations.”
The president also wrote that the national archivist recommended he direct two public releases of information that has been “deemed appropriate to the public.”
The first will be an interim release on Dec. 15 of this year with more sensitive information set to be made public in December 2022.
If a record cannot be fully disclosed, Mr. Biden committed to providing transparency on why a full release is not possible.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said Mr. Biden’s actions are “a path forward to ensure as many records as possible related to the assassination are released to the public as soon as possible.”
“Today’s action is one of the many steps the Biden administration has taken to ensure transparency and accountability in government,” the spokesperson said in a statement released Saturday.
Some 250,000 records have already been released, but the public cannot view them unless they drive to the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, the memo said. The records are not available online.
Under the order Friday, Mr. Biden instructed the National Archives to digitize all records by Dec. 15.
Former President Trump in 2018 extended the deadline for public release of the Kennedy assassination files to 2021, citing “identifiable harm to national security, law enforcement or foreign affairs.”
Mr. Trump’s order came on the deadline he imposed in 2017 for the full release of the files, surprising some.
In 1992, former President George H. W. Bush signed into law a bill that declared the federal government should eventually enable the public to access “all government records” concerning Mr. Kennedy’s death.
However, nearly 30 years later, thousands of documents still remain shrouded in secrecy even as tens of thousands of assassination records with various levels of redactions have been released. So far, more than 90% of records detailing the assassination have been released.
Mr. Kennedy was killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder, but he was assassinated two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who died in 1967.
The case has spawned countless conspiracy theories.