Following Orders: The Death of Vince Foster, Clinton White House Excerpt
Imagine being the president of the United States, or the First Lady, and discovering that your friend, your best friend, Vince Foster, was found dead in a park. More than a valued colleague, he had grieved with you when your father had died. He had celebrated your White House victory.
He had been your rock of Gibraltar and uprooted his life and his family from the place he grew up to serve in your administration in Washington. His wife taught your daughter how to swim in their backyard pool. His children were your child’s friends.
Let’s assume you have the good fortune to sit in America’s highest office with advantages the average person doesn’t enjoy—unlimited access to top investigative offices, the CIA and FBI, the world’s top experts one-phone call away.
With the stroke of a pen you had issued executive orders that overturned statutes. But instead of using this power, these resources, to find out everything about your friend’s death, you leave it to the U.S. Park Police to investigate before anyone could know with reasonable confidence that no foul play was involved.
Oddly, during five investigations spanning four years, the Clinton White House never turned over documents that investigators sought to help them do their jobs. And, if someone challenged the official findings, and held hearings like I the “Republican senators and their staffs conducted,” on Foster’s death, as Hillary wrote in her book, Living History, they “inflicted great emotional and monetary damage on innocent people.”
Individuals with fewer resources have done more to find out everything there was to know about the sudden and shocking death of a friend or loved one, than did the Clintons for their “dear” friend. Some of their stories appear on shows like NBC’s Dateline, ABC’s 20/20 and Primetime Live, CBS’s 48 Hour Mystery; and on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
By contrast, consider the history of the Foster investigations.
Two days after Foster died, Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers told the press about the U.S. Park Police investigation—the first investigation. “Well, just to be clear, what [the Park Police] are really looking for is just anything that would confirm that it was a suicide … It is a fairly limited investigation,” she said, “the Park Service is just looking into—again to establish—to confirm what they believe was a suicide.”
When pressed for more information, Myers reiterated the Clinton White House talking points, “My only point is that at this point, the Park Service Police is the only agency that’s investigating, and that the objective of their search is simply to determine that it was a suicide.”
From the get-go, homicide, foul play, the possibility of blackmail, a potential risk to national security, were never investigated.
As a government official, principally one who worked directly with the First Family, it is reasonable to assume and expect that a closer look was warranted.
Because Foster apparently died in a National Park, the case belonged to the Park Police, part of the Department of the Interior. The FBI—which normally would have and could have investigated such a death—was sidelined. As Myers affirmed, “There’s no other federal agencies that are investigating.”
Next, Linda [Tripp’s] boss, [Bernie] Nussbaum, on behalf of the counsel’s office, requested that the Justice Department coordinate Foster’s investigation with the Park Police. It sounded good.
But one week later, “the Justice Department backed off its pledge to conduct a full investigation” and said “it was merely participating in a low-level inquiry” run by the Park Police. The Park Police concluded Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park.
The second investigation began nearly six months after Foster’s death, on January 20, 1994. Under pressure from Congress and the press, Attorney General Reno appointed Independent Counsel Robert Fiske Jr. to launch an investigation in conjunction with the ongoing Whitewater investigations. Whitewater (the Whitewater Development Company, Inc.) had become news on the 1992 campaign trail.
It was then that the Clintons claimed Whitewater (a parcel of land they had purchased in 1978 in Arkansas to develop vacation homes with Jim and Susan McDougal, while Bill was Attorney General) was simply a $68,000 money-losing venture.
The controversy faded until the press began poking around at “the relationship between the Clintons,” and “the banking activity at two McDougal controlled financial institutions—Madison Bank & Trust and Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association,”—and Hillary’s legal counsel role with the Rose Law Firm. In 1986 Madison Guaranty failed, costing U.S. taxpayers $73 million to bail out. Eventually, both McDougals were convicted of fraud.
Fiske released his report on the death of Vince Foster on June 30, 1994, agreeing with the Park Police’s assessment. On February 24, 1994, seven months after Foster’s death, Republican Congressman William F. Clinger Jr. initiated his inquiry. It was the third Foster investigation. Clinger released his report on August 12, 1994, endorsing the Park Police findings based on “all the available facts.”
Next it was the Senate Banking Committee’s turn— the fourth Foster investigation. The bipartisan committee, also known as the Senate Whitewater Committee, held hearings on July 29, 1994.
Fourteen months after Foster’s death, on August 5, 1994, the fifth and final investigation began when newly appointed Kenneth Starr’s Independent Counsel launched an inquiry.
It’s vital to point out here that before the first OIC investigation was completed, on March 5, 1994, Linda’s boss, Nussbaum, resigned from the counsel’s office in humiliated disgrace for his mishandling of the Whitewater and the Foster investigations.
Shortly thereafter, on March 14, 1994, Webster Hubbell, who with Foster worked closely with Hillary at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, resigned from the Justice Department—also disgraced and then indicted. (Hubbell pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud that December.
During the sixteen months after Hubbell’s resignation, he received seventeen consulting contracts totaling over $450,000 from supporters of President Clinton. While the Independent Counsel found that Hubbell “did little or no work for the money paid by his consulting clients,” he determined there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the money was intended to influence Hubbell’s cooperation with investigators in the Whitewater investigation).
Both men, long-time Clinton friends and colleagues, had been questioned in the investigations.
Two years after Foster’s death, in 1995, the Senate Whitewater Committee “overwhelmingly” affirmed Fiske’s second conclusion, which concurred with the Park Police’s first investigation. On October 10, 1997, four years after Foster died, Starr concurred with Fiske’s conclusion, which also affirmed the Park Police’s investigation. Indeed, Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park. He was depressed. Case closed, so it seemed.
A problem of evidence
Except the problems with the Park Police’s initial investigation (the foundation for the next four investigations) began instantly; and immediately raised unanswered questions.
For openers, evidence gathering where Foster’s body was found was at best poorly handled, as Starr wrote:
The collection and preservation of physical evidence is [sic] the most important building blocks available to the crime scene investigator.” In Foster’s case, the 35mm photographs that Park Police took of his body “were underexposed and of little value.” Because Foster’s “clothing was packaged together before trace evidence was collected, specific trace evidence cannot be conclusively linked to particular items of clothing [that Foster] was wearing at the time of his death. To obtain precise trace evidence analyses, each item must be kept separate before trace evidence is collected.
The medical examiner’s laboratory “intended to take x-rays” of Foster’s body but the lab’s new x-ray machine was “not functioning properly.” No alternative arrangements were made. Foster was buried three days after he died.
“A perfect reconstruction … was not possible,” wrote Dr. Henry Lee, famed Director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory, when he was commissioned by Starr to help in his investigation. Lee, known for the O.J. Simpson case, wrote:
The reasons include the lack of complete documentation of the original shooting scene; the lack of subsequent records and photographs of each item of physical evidence prior to examinations; the lack of documentation of the amount of blood, tissue, and bone fragments in the areas at the scene under and around Foster’s head; the lack of close-up photographs of any definite patterns and quantity of the blood stains on Foster’s clothing and body at the scene; and the unknown location of the fatal bullet, which makes complete reconstruction of the bullet trajectory difficult.
Based on the Park Police’s failure at evidence gathering, common sense would say there was only one reasonable and solid conclusion that all the Foster inquiries should have reached: it was not possible to decisively conclude what had happened to Vince Foster.
Both Starr and Fiske attempted to recover evidence and complete what the original investigation had missed or failed to do.
Starr sent investigators to the neighborhood around Fort Marcy Park because there was “no record of any effort to canvass the neighborhood near the time of death to determine whether anyone had seen or heard relevant information.”
Another failed attempt brought Fiske and Starr’s investigators back to the park to locate physical evidence, specifically bone fragments from Foster’s skull and the fatal bullet that four Park Police investigators had unsuccessfully tried to locate two days after Foster’s death by using a “metal detector” in the immediate area where his body was found. OIC investigators recovered bullets and other metal objects, but none of the bullets was the one that killed Foster.
During Fiske’s inquiry, agents screened and sifted through approximately 18 inches down into the soil, and found “no bone fragments” that belonged to Foster.
Taking into account the indisputable failures of the Park Police’s unreliable investigation, who had confidently accepted the official Foster findings? Bill and Hillary Clinton. Did Linda trust those findings?
“No, of course not. How can anyone trust it? That’s why it’s so chilling,” she answered. “The official version is what the Clintons wanted everyone to believe.”
Bill Clinton wrote in My Life that he “was glad Fiske was looking at [Foster’s death]. The scandal machine was trying to get blood out of a turnip and maybe this would shut them up and give Vince’s family some relief.”
When Foster’s death fell under Starr’s purview, President Clinton grew impatient: “Starr showed his ‘independence’ when unbelievably he said he was going to reinvestigate Vince Foster’s death.” In 957 pages of President Clinton’s memoir, there are no references of concern or outrage over the outrageously flawed evidence gathering done by the Park Police regarding the death of his childhood friend.
For Hillary, like her husband, the official Foster findings are untouchable. There were also no references of concern or outrage over the flawed evidence gathering in 538 pages of Hillary’s memoir regarding the death of her closest confidante.
When it came to Starr, Hillary described him as the “part-timer; [with] zero criminal law experience, who was learning on the job.” Yet she was satisfied when, as she wrote in her book, “Starr had finally conceded that Vince Foster really had committed suicide. (Robert Fiske had reached that conclusion three years earlier, but it took four more official investigations, including Starr’s, to confirm it.)” Why would the “part-timer with zero criminal law experience” be trusted now?
It should have taken one competent investigation to resolve a senior White House official’s death and end reasonable speculation. Instead, Bill and Hillary deemed the “official findings” as truth based on the Park Police’s slapdash investigative work.
But placing culpability entirely on the Park Police would be unfair. Like their successors, they confronted strong-armed, obstruction-like tactics from the Clinton White House. According to Thomas Collier, the chief of staff of the secretary of the Interior, “The Park Police” were “very, very, upset about the investigation … [and] that they really couldn’t get the cooperation [from the White House] that they wanted to their superiors.”
As the Senate Whitewater Committee reported after their initial hearings were held: “… the Special Committee concludes that senior White House officials, particularly members of the Office of the White House Counsel, engaged in a pattern of highly improper conduct … following [Foster’s] death. These senior White House officials deliberately prevented career law enforcement officers from the Department of Justice and Park Police from fully investigating the circumstances surrounding Mr. Foster’s death, including whether he took his own life because of troubling matters involving the President and Mrs. Clinton.”
The passage of time in any investigation is never kind. Leads run cold.
Memories fade. Forensic evidence vanishes. One cannot undo the bungled evidence collecting that initially occurred. Neither Starr nor Fiske, despite their attempts, could turn back time and recollect precious evidence where Foster’s body was found or where he was last seen alive. Forced to draw a conclusion from the incomplete evidence they had, the OIC investigators had no alternative but to draw the most logical explanation.
To solve Foster’s death with confidence would require securing missing evidence, a smoking gun of sorts, a confession. History has shown that it is possible. Confessions and bouts of good conscience have solved cold cases before.
It took eighteen years of exhaustive FBI inquiries for Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, to be caught and that was only after his brother came forward.
In December 2002, the defendants who pled guilty thirteen years earlier to brutally raping and nearly killing the Central Park jogger were released from prison in part because of a confession and DNA. In 2012, new information surfaced regarding front-runner presidential candidate of the Democratic Party Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination when an eyewitness stepped forward and claimed that Sirhan Sirhan did not act alone, “The truth has got to come out. No more cover-ups,” the witness insisted. The case has since been re-opened.
Soon I would learn that the lingering, troublesome questions in the Foster case could be answered; that the nagging suspicions that Linda was hiding something, when I attempted to report her story accurately, were absolutely right.
Time showed me that just because Kenneth Starr’s OIC arrived at the same conclusion as the other investigations (by using the same limited, contaminated, and “available evidence” they had) did not mean their conclusions were accurate.
–END OF CHAPTER 3–
Following Orders is the sequel to The Whistleblower: How the Clinton White House Stayed in Power.
Updated: Watch FX’s Impeachment: American Crime Story.
54. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner trade paperback edition 2004), p. 163.
55 . Bill Clinton, White House Press Briefing, July 21, 1993.
56. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner trade paperback edition 2004), p. 219.
57. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Schibner, Trade paperback edition, 2004) p. 297.
58. White House Press Briefing, July 22, 1993.
59. White House Press Briefing, July 22, 1993.
60. Michael Isikoff, “Park Police to Conduct Inquiry ‘Routine’ Probe Set on Foster’s Death,” Washington Post, July 27, 1993.
61. Robert W. Ray, Independent Counsel, Final Report of the Independent Counsel Re: Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association, January 5, 2001. See: The Clintons, the McDougals, and the Whitewater Development Company, p. 1.
62. Michael Haddigan, “Susan McDougal Gets 2 Years for Fraud Tied to Whitewater,” Washington Post, August 21, 1996, p. A14.
63. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p. 7  Summary Report by William F. Clinger (Aug. 12, 1994) at 6.
64. Whitewater Timeline, CNN.
65. David Lauter, “Clinton’s Counsel Nussbaum Resigns,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1994. “White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum resigned Saturday, bringing to an end a yearlong tenure marked by controversy and accusations that his zealous advocacy of Bill Clinton’s interests had compromised the President’s political standing.”
66. Susan Schmidt, “Starr Brings Third Indictment Against Hubbell,” Washington Post, November 14, 1998; p. A1. Also see: Susan Schmidt, “Indictment Claims Hubbells Lived Lavishly,” Washington Post, May 1, 1998; p.A01; access online:.
67. Report of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs United States Senate on the Inquiry into the U.S. Park Police Investigation of the Death of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr., Rept. 103-433, Vol. I, January 3, 1995.
68. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p. 44. 69 Robert B. Fiske, Jr., Special Prosecutor, Fiske Preliminary Report, June 30, 1994, p.33.
70. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p. 44.
71. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p. 75  OIC, 2/16/95, at 17.
72. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p. 14, Lee Report at 485.
73. Kenneth W. Starr, Independent Counsel, Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, October 10, 1997, p.71  .
74. Robert B. Fiske, Jr., Special Prosecutor, Fiske Report, June 30, 1994, p. 48.
75. Starr Report, Starr Referral, Supplemental Materials, Part III, September 28, 1998, p. 4276. “It became very important for the Clintons for their version of the events to be the accepted version of events.”
76. Bill Clinton, My Life, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 606.
77. Bill Clinton, My Life, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 640.
78. Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Scribner Trade paperback edition, 2004), p. 244. 79 Hillary Clinton, Living History, (First Schibner, Trade paperback edition, 2004), p. 439.
80. Final Report of Special Committee to Investigate Whitewater, January 22, 1996, p. 97-98.
81 Final Report of Senate Whitewater Investigation, June 13, 1996, p.9.
82. Colombia encyclopedia.
83. NYPD Panel on Central Park Jogger Case Issues Report, January 27, 2003.
84. Michael Martinez and Brad Johnson, “RFK assassination witness tells CNN there was a second shooter,” CNN, April 30, 2012.
85. “Starr Rules Out Foul Play in Foster Death,” CNN, February 23, 1997.