Release of JFK assassination files is delayed as deadline looms

The U.S. government was in danger Thursday of missing the deadline to release a trove of previously classified records from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, adding an unexpected twist to a saga already rife with rumors and conspiracies.

The National Archives needs the official approval of President Donald Trump to begin releasing the 35,000 documents online and meet a deadline to divulge the papers set by Congress 25 years ago by The John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act.

But as of Thursday afternoon, the memo specifying which material the CIA, State Department and other agencies still want to keep under wraps had not made it to Trump’s desk, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

“There’s a mad scramble going on in the executive branch to get this done,” one official told NBC News.

12 PHOTOS
Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald
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Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald
(GERMANY OUT) Attentat / Kennedy-Attentat: Lee Harvey Oswald steht im Vorgarten eines amerikanischen Wohnhauses und hält ein Gewehr in der Hand. An der Seite trägt er eine Pistole mit Halfter. Mit der rechten Hand hält er sich ein Schriftstück, möglicherweise eine Zeitung, vor die Brust. Am 22. November 1963 tötet Oswald den amerikanischen Präsidenten bei einem Besuch im texanischen Bundesstaat Dallas. Nach seiner Verhaftung wird der 24-jährige von dem Nachtclubbesitzer Jack Ruby ermordet. Undatiertes Foto. (Photo by Thomas & Thomas/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Dallas. Texas. Location of the scene where John Kennedy was assassinated during an official journey, 1963, United States, National archives. Washington, . (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
American president John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963) is struck by an assassin's bullet as he travels through Dallas in a motorcade, 22nd November 1963. In the car next to him is his wife Jacqueline (1929 - 1994) and in the front seat is Texas governor John Connally. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The view from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, from which Lee Harvey Oswald is thought to have assassinated President John F. Kennedy, 22nd November 1963. This photograph was taken approximately one hour after the assassination. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 22: CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite reports President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, TX on Friday, November 22, 1963. (CBS via Getty Images)
23rd November 1963: Mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald (1939 - 1963), alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, taken by the Dallas Police department, Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
In the aftermath of the assasination of US President John F. Kennedy, American politician and Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 - 1973) takes the oath of office to become the 36th President of the United States as he is sworn in by US Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes (1896 - 1985) (left) on the presidential aircraft, Air Force One, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy (later Onassis) stands beside him at right. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Lee Harvey Oswald (1939 - 1963) (R), alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is detained by a police officer while under arrest, Dallas, Texas, November 1963. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A model used by the Warren Commission to illustrate three shots allegedly taken by Lee Harvey Oswald is seen in the Sixth Floor Museum formally the site of the Texas School Book Depository October 8, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The the Warren Commission, established by President Lyndon Johnson, studied and rep leased an official report on the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK in Dallas's Dealey Plaza. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Lee Harvey Oswald (1939 - 1963) (C) is taken into custody by police after allegedly shooting President John F Kennedy, Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
A map of Oak Cliff in Dallas, showing the location of eyewitnesses to the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald in the vicinity of the killing of police officer J. D. Tippit, 22nd November 1963. Tippit was shot by Oswald whilst attempting to bring him in for questioning in relation to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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The CIA is asking only for some redactions, not for all the documents to be held, the official said. But the other agencies involved in the process have not yet finished their submissions.

So only a handful of documents were expected to be released on Thursday, not the entire batch, officials told NBC News.

Trump, who is no stranger to peddling conspiracy theories about the Kennedy killing, had appeared to be especially eager to get the latest JFK documents out.

This is likely to be the last JFK document dump, and it remains to be seen whether it finally satisfies people who still dispute the finding of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he gunned down Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

The assassination shocked the nation and spawned a conspiracy industry that continues to pump out alternate theories about who was really behind the killing.

Officials at the National Archives have made a point of trying to tamp down expectations that the newest batch of documents contain any blockbuster revelations — and have noted repeatedly that about 90 percent of the available records related to the assassination are already public.

Related: What Could Be in the New Kennedy Assassination Records?

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John F Kennedy (life)
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John F Kennedy (life)
1927: Headshot portrait of John F Kennedy (1917-1963) at age ten, standing outdoors and wearing a suit with his hair slicked back. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Future President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963) in London. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
American statesman John F Kennedy, later the 35th President of the United States (right), with Mr Borhum at a garden party at the White House, Washington DC. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1st September 1939: Joe, Kathleen and John F Kennedy, the children of American Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph P Kennedy, arriving at the Houses of Parliament in London. John later became the 35th President of the United States. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
A photo dated 1950's shows John F. Kennedy with his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963), the American president sitting in a rocking chair. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Senator John F Kennedy seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidential elections, which he went on to win. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
President John F. Kennedy speaks on the telephone August 23, 1962 in the Oval Office. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
Senator John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963) is given a rousing ovation during his presidential campaign. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963), American president-elect, with his wife Jacqueline (1929 - 1994) at the christening of their son John F Jr. (1960 - 1999) in Washington. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963) holds his first press conference, Washington D.C., 28th January 1961. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
17th February 1961: Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 - 1994), wife of US President John F Kennedy, and daughter Caroline relax together at home. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1962: US statesman John F Kennedy, 35th president of the USA, making a speech. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
US President John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963, left) with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (1894 - 1986) outside Government House in Hamilton, Bermuda, where they are holding talks, 22nd December 1961. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)
President John F. Kennedy greets wellwishers after a speech May 8, 1963 at the White House. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
9th November 1960: Senator John F Kennedy, the Democratic candidate who has been elected president of the USA. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who used his body to shield the mortally wounded president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy after the first shots rang out in Dallas, said earlier Thursday that he hoped the latest declassified papers shed light on why Oswald pulled the trigger.

“I’m hoping that within that material — and there’s lots of it — there will be some indication as to the motive, the reason why he did what he did,” Hill told MSNBC.

Hill said he still blames himself for not reacting faster when the presidential motorcade came under fire.

“Deep down I still have that sense of guilt that I should have been able to get there quicker, and I didn’t,” he said. “I was the only one who had a chance to do anything.”

The paperwork that was scheduled to be unveiled on Thursday had been vetted by the Assassination Records Review Board, a panel created in the aftermath of Oliver Stone’s 1991 conspiracy film “JFK,” which popularized the notion that Kennedy was killed by rogue FBI and CIA agents.

The ARRB released the bulk of the JFK assassination paperwork two years after it was founded. The new documents were marked “NBR,” or Not Believed Relevant, the panel’s chairman, John Tunheim, said in March at a National Press Club conference in Washington.

“It’s not that important to keep protecting it,” he said. Still, he added, “I think there will be stuff interesting to researchers.”

Some 200 pages of the new batch are expected to delve into the six-day visit Oswald, a onetime Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union, made to Mexico City just before Kennedy's assassination.

One of the juiciest stories is likely to be that of June Cobb, a CIA spy who was working in Cuba and Mexico who reported that Oswald had been spotted in Mexico City.

Cobb, born Viola June Cobb in Ponca City, Oklahoma, died on Oct. 17, 2015, in New York City, where she was living in a Manhattan senior center, an official there and her former sister-in-law told NBC News.

Tunheim said the CIA, State Department and other federal agencies balked at releasing the Mexico City paperwork “because it was thought to be detrimental to our relationship with the Mexican government at the time.”

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