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A key witness in the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent
Foster charges that so-called “independent” investigations led by Robert
Fiske and Kenneth Starr actually relied on FBI agents who had a vested
interest in verifying the findings of their agency which, along with the
U.S. Park Police, was deeply involved in the probe from the day Foster’s
lifeless body was discovered in Fort Marcy Park.
Patrick Knowlton, who happened by the crime scene hours before
Foster’s body was found in the park on July 20, 1993, points out the FBI
played a large role in the initial investigation, according to key
depositions in the case.
“The FBI, you see, had as big a hand in the initial investigation as
did the United States Park Police,” Knowlton said. “The purpose of
having an independent counsel is to prevent the Justice Department from
investigating itself. But that is precisely what happened in the Foster
case. The FBI, a part of the Justice Department, investigated itself.”
The role of the FBI in the initial investigation has been,
heretofore, little known. Press reports downplayed the extent of FBI
involvement — characterizing it as simply “monitoring” the work of the
park police. Days after Foster’s death, Justice Department spokesmen
specifically stated that there was no investigation by the FBI.
Even Christopher Ruddy, a critic of the official investigations,
reported that the Clinton administration blocked the FBI from taking any
real role in matters relating to Foster’s death. In his book published
in 1997, Ruddy wrote, “The truth was that the FBI had been kept at arm’s
length during the entire Park Police probe.”
The full extent of the FBI’s role has never before been fully
revealed, say Knowlton and others knowledgeable about the case.
The breadth of the FBI’s role in the initial 17-day death
investigation was documented in a
20-page attachment added to Starr’s Report by the three-judge panel on the Special Division of the United States Court of Appeals and released to the public Oct. 10, 1997. Knowlton submitted these 20 pages of official evidence to the court.
It was a historic event marking the first time that evidence of a cover-up by the independent counsel’s own staff was included in a report by an official investigator. Most Americans are unaware of the existence or the contents of the attachment to Starr’s report, but one issue it addressed is the role of the FBI in the initial death investigation.
“The public has been told repeatedly that the U.S. Park Police investigated from the time of the discovery of Mr. Foster’s body until the case was officially closed (the first time) 16 days later,” said Hugh Turley, an aide to John Clarke, the attorney for Patrick Knowlton. But, “publicly available official federal government records demonstrate that throughout the 16-day U.S. Park Police investigation, FBI participation was significant,” according to the attachment to the Starr report.
The evidence in the attachment showed that on the evening of the discovery of Foster’s body, the FBI arranged to send FBI agents Scott Salter and Dennis Condon to the White House to investigate the death. They were dispatched to the White House the following morning, as agent Salter testified June 30, 1995.
“(FBI Agent) John Danna called us in my car (on July 21) and told us to go to the southwest gate of the White House and meet him there and that we were … going to be working on a death investigation involving Mr. Foster’s death,” Salter said in his deposition.
When handed a memorandum and asked to identify it, agent Salter said: “[I]t’s basically a summary of events from the 21st through the conclusion of, through August 4th or 6th or whatever it was, through the conclusion of the investigation that we did.”
Salter explained that the FBI’s function was to interview witnesses along with the U.S. Park Police.
“We were there to assist them in conducting the investigation, which meant interviewing co-workers … [and] then proceed as the investigation, you know, called for,” he testified.
Department of Interior Chief of Staff Thomas Collier testified in a deposition June 23, 1995, that “the FBI and the Park Police ended-up working on this kind of hand-in-glove.”
U.S. Secret Service Agent Paul Imbordino, in response to the question at his June 22, 1995, deposition, “Who conducted the interviews?” answered, “Park Police and FBI.” Other FBI agents who conducted interviews during the initial investigation into Foster’s death included Charles K. Dorsey and Bradley J. Garrett.
During his July 30, 1994, deposition, U.S. Park Police Maj. Robert Hines testified that the FBI dominated much of the investigation. When asked, “Did there come a time when you determined that [the] Department of Justice was really in charge of this investigation?”, Hines answered, “There came a time when I determined that they were calling a lot of shots, setting-up a lot of protocols …”
During the course of the initial investigation, FBI agents interviewed over two dozen people regarding events leading up to and immediately following Foster’s death, far more than the Park Police interviewed.
The day after the death, July 21, FBI agents met with White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, Assistant White House Counsel Steven Neuwirth and Assistant White House Counsel Clifford Sloan to discuss the search of Foster’s office. In 1995, the Senate held well-publicized hearings concerning Nussbaum’s refusal to let authorities see all the documents he reviewed during the office search on July 22 in the presence of the FBI and the Park Police. There were allegations that White House personnel searched the office before Nussbaum’s official search. Yet, the FBI had already searched the office and removed evidence, according to a U.S. Secret Service report, written by a technical security division officer. On Aug. 3, 1993, that officer wrote that on July 31, 1993, 11 days after the death, an FBI agent told him of the FBI’s involvement in the case.
“[The agent] … and some other agents (five) were working on the Foster suicide … working … leads on some info they had received …”
The source of the information that “the FBI had removed evidence” was the officer who was there to change the locks on Wednesday, July 21. The FBI was later charged with determining who had secretly ferreted-out documents from Foster’s office in the aftermath of his death and determining what was removed.
Additionally, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Bryant admitted that a federal assassination statute required the FBI to exercise primary jurisdiction over the case. At an Aug. 10, 1993, press conference, Bryant explained that the FBI ruled the death a suicide.
Because the initial investigation was, in fact, conducted jointly by the Park Police and the FBI, both agencies would bear responsibility for any deficiencies. Critics of the probe have long charged that basic investigative procedures were ignored, both at the scene and thereafter. Since the FBI did initially investigate along with the Park Police, at which time it ruled that the death was a suicide, the FBI had an interest in a final determination of no criminal activity, according to Turley.
Starr has steadfastly refused to comment further on his findings that Foster shot himself in the park.
a three-judge federal panel unsealed the 511-page
report, submitted by Knowlton, which, in the view of Clarke, Knowlton, Turley and others presents incontrovertible evidence of conspiracy and cover-up by the Justice Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel in connection with their investigations into Foster’s death and counters the official conclusion that the top White House official committed suicide by gunshot in the park.
Knowlton’s court filing charges Starr’s investigation simply added “another layer to the 6-year-old ongoing Justice Department cover-up” — which began the night of the death and continued through an initial 17-day examination by the FBI and two probes by the two independent counsels — a reference not only to Starr’s work but to that of Special Counsel Robert Fiske, whose report was issued June 30, 1994.
Knowlton’s filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals are built on charges developed in a civil suit he filed Oct. 25, 1996, charging FBI agents and others with obstruction of justice, witness intimidation and personal harassment. An amended complaint was filed in October 1998 adding defendants and additional information.
“In this report, we’ve proved there was a crime — though we’re nowhere near the point where we can say who did it or why,” Clarke said. “I think the evidence is consistent with a professional hit.”
Foster’s body was found July 20, 1993, at 5:50 p.m. near the northwest corner of Fort Marcy Park, Va., approximately 700 feet from the parking lot. The body was found in a heavily wooded area lying on one of the earthen berms of the Civil War fort. The official cause of death — touted from the outset as a suicide — was declared due to a gunshot fired into the mouth; the weapon, said to be a black 1913 Army Colt .38 Special six-shot revolver, was said to have been found in Foster’s hand.
Knowlton, 44, had stopped briefly at Fort Marcy 70 minutes before the body was discovered. He saw that Foster’s silver-gray 1989 Honda was not in the parking lot at 4:30 p.m. when he arrived, though Foster had officially driven it there and took his own life. Knowlton did, however, see an early-1980s model, rust-brown Honda with Arkansas plates and a blue late-model sedan.
Knowlton later reported that no one was in the Honda but that the driver of the sedan stood by that car watching him “menacingly” as he walked into the woods seeking a secluded place where he could relieve himself, and he was still there when Knowlton returned a few minutes later.
Knowlton notified the U.S. Park Police as to what he had seen in the parking lot as soon as word of Foster’s death was made public on July 21. He was not contacted by the FBI for a statement until the following spring. FBI agents interviewed him in April and May 1994 prior to the release of the Fiske report but, according to Knowlton, falsified his account of what he saw. Despite Knowlton’s insistence that the car he saw was a 1983-84 rust-brown Honda, the agents in their report wrote that he had seen a 1988-1990 Honda. Foster’s car was a silver 1989 Honda.
It was important to establish that Foster’s car was in the parking lot at 4:30 p.m. since the medical examiner and others later set the approximate time of death between 2 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. The question is — if Foster’s car was not at the park at 4:30 p.m., as Knowlton insists, where was it? And, if Foster did not drive to the park, how did he or his body get there?
Since stepping down as independent counsel, Starr has steadfastly refused to comment on questions about his report on Foster’s death.
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See Joseph Farah’s commentary:
Hillary and Vince