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Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has closed the books on the investigation of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster’s death, he says.
He reached the same conclusion as his predecessor, Whitewater Special Counsel Robert Fiske, who found that Foster shot himself in Fort Marcy Park.
But not only does Starr refuse to release to the public his own report on the case, he refuses to turn over to news organizations material gathered to support Fiske’s report issued June 30, 1994 — more than three years ago.
While there might be some justification for withholding those documents from the public and press while an official investigation was still active, it challenges the imagination to figure out a rationale for the veil of secrecy over the Fiske documents. Starr doesn’t even bother to try. He has simply ordered his deputies to withhold the original data indefinitely.
Beginning on July 12, 1995, my organization, the Western Journalism Center, began the process of seeking 14 specific items related to Fiske’s investigation of Foster’s death. Under the Freedom of Information Act, we requested the following from Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel, which had inherited them from Fiske:
- All available photographic scene evidence (or access to such photos for visual inspection);
- All autopsy photos (or access to them);
- Copies of all notations made on the back of photographs, including U.S. Park Police originals and copies made by the FBI;
- All reports, chain-of-custody analysis and other written materials relating to those photos;
- FBI lab reports on Foster’s blood work, detailing all screens tested;
- Any notes of agents who participated in the excavation of Fort Marcy Park on April 4 and 5, 1994;
- All notes made by FBI agents assigned to the Fiske investigation that were used in the preparation of interview statements (302s) that have been publicly released;
- All notes by FBI agents assigned the Fiske investigation used for the preparation of the interview statement of Police Officer Franz Ferstl, as well as any handwritten notes, diagrams or maps provided by the officer;
- Interview statements or any information concerning Foster provided by David Hale;
- Any and all documents relating to the analysis, description and investigation of carpet fibers found on Foster’s body as noted in the Fiske report;
- All Foster’s telephone records, logs and messages from June 1, 1993, through July 20, 1993;
- All interview statements completed by the FBI relating to the activities in Foster’s office after his death — especially, the removal of papers;
- Documents of radio and phone records (including mobile phones) or calls made by the U.S. Park Police on July 20, 1993, relating to Foster’s death.
- Documents relating to any investigation of the condition and servicing of the Northern Virginia deputy medical examiner’s X-ray machine, said to be inoperable on July 21, 1993.
Predictably, Starr turned down our original request, citing the fact that his investigation was still under way. After he closed the case in August, we filed another FOIA request for the very same material.
But showing utter contempt for the very law he is sworn to uphold and enforce, Starr once again denied our request on the basis that the records were “compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” What enforcement? The case is closed! Is Starr planning on bringing charges against Foster for killing himself?
Furthermore, under law, if the Independent Counsel’s Office disputes that any of these documents are public, it is required to provide a detailed statement of the reasons for withholding them, index the material and provide a location of item. Starr’s office didn’t bother. Like those he is charged with investigating, he seems to believe he is above the law.
And maybe he’s right. After all, when you’re stonewalled by both the White House and the independent counsel supposedly investigating it, to whom do you turn?