Dallas DA says unearthed JFK documents will likely be given to Sixth Floor

March 3, 2008

It’s time for a letter-writing and calling campaign to Dallas County D.A. Watkin’s office to make sure that the newly discovered JFK assassination records do not end up at the Sixth Floor Musuem (see related article below), but become part of the JFK Records Collection at Archives II, where they legally must reside:

Craig Watkins
DALLAS, TEXAS 75207-4399
(214)653-3600 Office
(214) 653-5774 FAX

In 1992, the Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Act (http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/arrb98/part15.htm) to release all federal, state, local and court records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. A “related record” is broadly defined by the regulatory guidance implemented by the Assassination Records Review Board in their search for files and artifacts:

36 CFR 1400–Guidance for Interpretation and Implementation of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/arrb98/part16.htm)

Records from both the New Orleans and Dallas District Attorney offices were requested. (The Act specifiically includes records from “any State or local law enforcement office that provided support or assistance or performed work in connection with a Federal inquiry into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy“)

The Records Act is still in effect and it legally supercedes other legislation, as well as the 1994 court decision regarding the Dallas County Historical Association or Sixth Floor Museum. (The Act states clearly, “Precedence over Other Law- When this Act requires transmission of a record to the Archivist or public disclosure, it shall take precedence over any other law (except section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code), judicial decision construing such law, or common law doctrine that would otherwise prohibit such transmission or disclosure, with the exception of deeds governing access to or transfer or release of gifts and donations of records to the United States Government.”)

The Act also specifies that. “No assassination record created by a person or entity outside government … shall be withheld, redacted, postponed for public disclosure, or reclassified.”  The Act also envisions periodic review to include newly found records, “A periodic review shall address the public disclosure of additional assassination records in the Collection under the standards of this Act.”) President Kennedy’s death happened in Dallas but it affected the nation and the truth of his death belongs to history.

The provisions of the JFK Records Act remain in effect until March of 2017 or until the Archivist certifies full release of all related files. (The Act specifies that, “Each assassination record shall be publicly disclosed in full, and available in the Collection no later than the date that is 25 years after the date of enactment of this Act” and also that. ” The remaining provisions of this Act shall continue in effect until such time as the Archivist certifies to the President and the Congress that all assassination records have been made available to the public in accordance with this Act.“)

The JFK Records Collection is the most visited section of the whole National Archives, despite its isolation in College Park, MDs National Archives II facility. Tourists to the Sixth Floor Museum or the Grassy Knoll in Dallas rarely visit to pore over documents, and copies would suffice for those who wish to see them there. The serious researchers into political assassinations have already been frustrated by their lack of access to many of the 20,000 records controlled by the Sixth Floor Museum, since a private museum can restrict access in ways that the National Archives cannot.

No single researcher can determine the presence of a smoking gun, and records have intrinsic value beyond their contents in terms of the historical context. These files, which relate to Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, Henry Wade and the events surrounding and following November 22, 1963 are clearly related and as such fall under the provisions of the JFK Records Act. The originals properly belong in the National Archives under the law, while copies can be retained at other agencies or museums.

Many other related records generated by the Dallas police, courts and justice agencies have already been given over under the provisions of the law, and there are no legal provisions that exempt files that have been improperly hidden from the public for decades and illegally held back from the Review Boards request now over a decade ago. These files belong with the national collection, not with Dallas. This is not a decision that can be made by either Dallas County District Attorney Watkins nor archivist Steve Tilly, it is determined by federal law.

I hope these legal clarifications will guide D.A. Watkins’ decision as to the fate of the newly released documents and artifacts which are clearly JFK assassination related records.
John Judge for the Coalition on Political Assassinations, Washington, DC

Dallas DA says unearthed JFK documents will likely be given to Sixth Floor

10:46 PM CST on Friday, February 29, 2008

By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News

It appears that what happened in Dallas will stay in Dallas.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins Jr. said Friday that, while he will not make a final decision until next week, he probably will donate long-hidden documents regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

“I feel an obligation,” he said. “This is where I live, this is where it happened, and I think it would be good for tourism and good for the local economy to keep the documents at The Sixth Floor Museum.”

The 15 boxes of materials were stashed and then kept secret by Mr. Watkins’ predecessors for four decades before being revealed by Mr. Watkins two weeks ago.

In a Feb. 18 news conference announcing the collection’s existence, Mr. Watkins said he intended to donate it to a museum, and he left open the possibility that it might go somewhere outside Dallas.

The stakes were raised recently when a federal judge urged Mr. Watkins to donate the thousands of pages of JFK-related materials to the National Archive’s Kennedy Assassination Collection in College Park, Md.

U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim of Minneapolis was speaking as a private citizen, but one with some standing. He served during the 1990s as chairman of the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board, which was established by Congress to collect all previously undisclosed records related to the assassination and assess their value.

The National Archives’ JFK collection “is a treasure trove of information, preserved under ideal conditions and accessible to the public,” Judge Tunheim wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Mr. Watkins.

He also argued against giving the documents to The Sixth Floor Museum. “I have always been concerned that it may not be a proper archival facility, particularly for documents, and may not continue into perpetuity,” the judge wrote.

“What will happen to the records at the Sixth Floor Museum in the long term, I do not know.”

Sixth Floor’s defense

Sixth Floor officials, who have made no secret of their desire to obtain the files, expressed delight Friday at Mr. Watkins’ words, but they were cautious until a final decision is announced.

“We would be very pleased if they came to The Sixth Floor,” said Nicola Longford, the museum’s executive director.

She also said worries about the museum’s ability to care for the documents are misplaced.

“I am surprised by Judge Tunheim’s concern about the long-term viability of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza,” Ms. Longford said in an e-mailed statement.

“Visitor attendance has remained steady with average annual attendance of over 325,000. The museum remains one of the most heavily visited historic sites in Texas, outside the Alamo.”

The National Archives’ materials dwarf The Sixth Floor’s collection. National Archives officials say they have 5 million pages of documents regarding the JFK assassination. Officials at the Dallas museum say they have about 20,000 documents, though no estimate on the number of pages.

But Ms. Longford defended the quality of her museum.

“We have storage facilities that are equal to any in the country,” she said.

Judge Tunheim said Friday he was disappointed by Mr. Watkins’ remarks.

He said he still believes that giving the documents to the National Archives would make them more accessible to researchers, but “I understand the hometown aspect of all this.”

It was a card that Sixth Floor officials were not shy about playing.

“The documents are from Dallas. They’re from the Dallas County DA’s office. They are best kept in Dallas,” Ms. Longford said.

Mr. Watkins said Friday that his office, in any case, may have no legal choice in the matter.

He said he was researching a 1994 Commissioners Court order that instructed all county offices to turn over materials related to Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald and President Kennedy to the Dallas County Historical Foundation – which does business under the name of The Sixth Floor Museum.

Even if there is no such requirement, Mr. Watkins said, “I would probably give them to The Sixth Floor anyway.”

National Archives officials said they had been discussing whether they would be interested in the Dallas County DA files.

“We want to look at what’s in there before we could make a decision on whether we would accept it,” said Steven Tilley, who oversees written documents at the National Archives’ College Park facility.

At first glance …

The ultimate importance of the documents is unclear.

Mr. Watkins’ initial announcement made international news and was expected to trigger a frenzy among assassination history buffs.

But that frenzy has yet to happen.

After The Dallas Morning News obtained and posted the bulk of the DA files online, most comments on the newspaper’s Web site and on sites devoted to the assassination expressed confusion over the meaning of the documents or frustration that they seemed random and without context.

Among history enthusiasts searching through the documents has been Steve Thomas, a librarian in Newburgh, Ind., who describes himself as an amateur assassination researcher. Over the last week, he has posted summaries of the files on a JFK assassination discussion group on www.educationforum.ipbhost.com – a site for teachers and educators.

After going through about half the files, Mr. Thomas said, he is not sure what to make of them.

“If you’re looking for a historical record of the Jack Ruby trial, it puts it into the context from [former Dallas County DA] Henry Wade’s perspective,” he said.

But the documents are unlikely to contain any blockbusters.

“If you’re looking for a smoking gun,” Mr. Thomas said, “you’re not going to find it.”

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