There have been seven known government investigations concerning the death of former White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster: the US Park Police investigation, the simultaneous one conducted by the FBI in parallel with the Park Police, the separate FBI investigation into the discovery of the so-called Foster "torn note" in Foster's briefcase six days after his death, the one performed by Robert Fiske (the first "Whitewater" Counsel), that conducted by Rep. William Clinger (then ranking Republican on the Committee on Government Operations), the one conducted by the Senate "Whitewater" Committee, and the investigation done by the current "Whitewater" Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr and released to the public on October 10, 1997 (the "top-level" reports).
Thousands of pages from the underlying government investigative record have been released as well (subsidiary reports of various kinds, testimony, depositions, FBI and Park Police witness interview reports, laboratory reports, investigators' memos and handwritten notes, etc.). It is critical to emphasize two points: the only source for the conclusions claimed in the top-level reports is, of course, the underlying investigative record the government compiled and, at the time the underlying record was being created, the investigators involved had no idea the documents they were creating would ever have to withstand public scrutiny.
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Since the top-level reports reached the same conclusion -- that Foster killed himself on the spot where his body was discovered at Fort Marcy Park, Virginia, with the 1913 Army Colt .38 Special revolver found in his hand by firing a bullet into his mouth that exited the upper rear of his head -- it is legitimate to ask why there is still any controversy remaining about Foster's death. If, on the other hand, numerous material discrepancies remain unexplained or unmentioned in the top-level reports after so many investigations and so much effort, it would be all the more appropriate to question the legitimacy of the government's claims about the death.
In part, the Foster controversy survives due to the work of reporters
such as Christopher Ruddy and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, both of whom had books published last year about their examinations of the death explaining why they continue to question the official conclusions. The controversy also survives due to document analysis and fieldwork done by others, including Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, who have also reported serious problems, if not more, with the official conclusions. Having evaluated that record with care, Reed Irvine, like Ruddy and Evans-Pritchard believes that, however Mr. Foster came to grief, be it suicide or be it murder, 1) the official death scene was materially altered and 2) Foster did not die in that park.
According to his publisher, Dan Moldea's just-published book, "A Washington Tragedy -- How The Death Of Vincent Foster Ignited A Political Firestorm" (Regnery; $24.95), "investigates all the details of the death of Vincent Foster and runs down all the clues and evidence. His trained eye for detail is evident on every page. ... He answers all the questions that have been raised." According to the author, "This work is based on my numerous exclusive interviews with the top investigators, both official and unofficial, in the Foster case, as well as a close reading of the thousands of documents they authored." Moldea promises his readers "a straight narrative about the Foster investigations, organizing it into a chronology of events," without "placing my own personal spin on the actual words written and spoken between and among the characters."
To his credit, Moldea covers some of the sizable discrepancies between the factual conclusions endorsed by the top-level reports and the content of the underlying official investigative record. In sharp contrast, the reports ignored or greatly minimized government evidence, however significant, inconsistent with the official conclusions about the Foster death.
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The confidence the authors of the top-level reports express is extremely high. Fiske: "On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 20, 1993, in Fort Marcy Park, Fairfax County, Virginia, Vincent W. Foster, Jr., committed suicide by firing a bullet from a .38 caliber revolver into his mouth. As discussed below, the evidence overwhelmingly supports this conclusion, and there is no evidence to the contrary." Fiske's successor, Independent Counsel Starr, agrees with the prior official reports and quotes his own experts: "[I]n my opinion and to a 100% degree of medical certainty, the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide. No plausible evidence has been presented to support any other conclusion."
Moldea concludes that none of the discrepancies within the record are of any significance and agrees with the conclusions in the top-level reports. He differs only in that he believes that the "triggering event" for Foster's suicide "occurred within his private life, not his public career," namely, Mr. Foster's "unhappiness with the state of their marriage since his move to Washington."
Dan Moldea's investigation did reveal new information about the "60 Minutes" segment on the Foster death: Christopher Ruddy, the first reporter to question the conclusions of the Park Police about the death was to have been set up by "60 Minutes" in its interview with Ruddy. According to Moldea, an attorney for one of the Park Police officers was told ahead of time by an associate producer, "We just want to nail Ruddy."
Moldea writes that the officer and his attorney were listening from the bathroom of the hotel room when Mike Wallace taped his first interview with Ruddy and had been told they would be given a signal to surprise Ruddy on camera and confront him about his reporting. The plan fell apart only because Wallace started to buy into Ruddy's conclusions about the Foster death during the morning session.
With Ruddy still in the dark during the lunch break, Moldea reports that the producer of the "60 Minutes" segment on Foster told the officer and his attorney, "It's not going well. The story's dead. I can't believe this: Mike [Wallace] is blowing it!" The officer, his attorney, and the producer met with Wallace during the lunch break and managed to change his mind.
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What is the nature of the discrepancies in the official record, many alluded to by Moldea but many not, that continue to cause some to believe the Foster death involves a significant cover-up -- a cover-up that continues to this day?
Clearly, it would be astounding in an investigative record that spans many thousands of pages not to discover numerous discrepancies. That said, all material discrepancies should have been dealt with prior to the drafting stage of the top-level reports, either by reconciling the apparent discrepancies in a reasonable and innocuous manner or, if that could not be done legitimately, by shaping and qualifying the conclusions in the reports to reflect reality.
If it can be shown that "enough" high-quality material discrepancies exist within the government record of the Foster death, the American public should not be expected to be confident the government's conclusions about the Foster death are truthful. Stated a different way: Is Dan Moldea right to dismiss all discrepancies as, in his words, "insignificant details" that have been over-hyped by the "minutiae peddlers of the Foster case"?
Much has been made in the official reports, newspaper stories, magazine accounts, and books regarding Foster's depressed mental state in the weeks before his death. The official consensus is that Foster was clinically depressed, but an examination of the underlying record severely challenges, if not utterly destroys, this claim.
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Moldea accurately reports that the White House position on Foster's mental state in the weeks prior to his death changed radically several days after his death, attributing this shift to the discovery by the White House, on July 26, of the so-called "torn note" in Foster's briefcase -- a laundry list of items said to have been troubling him. The existence of the torn note was not made public until about 30 hours after it was found -- and not until after several discussions about it were held at the White House (at least one with the widow and her attorney).
Beginning the night of the death and for several days thereafter, those who knew Foster expressed nothing but shock and surprise. No family member or close friend initially voiced any concern about Foster's mental state, but around the time of the torn note's discovery, seemingly everyone who knew Foster began to describe how "down" or "depressed" he in fact had been in the weeks before his death.
Rather than the cause of the radical flip-flop on Foster's mental state, at a minimum, the official reaction to the discovery of the note, if not the note itself, may have been a prudent tactical response to the death. Had Foster's death remained the unexplained "bolt from the blue" that his family and close friends initially described, ongoing public interest in the 'mysterious' reason behind the death of this senior administration official and long-time confidante of the Clintons would have been legitimized.
On the other hand, if it could be successfully claimed that Foster had been clinically depressed for one or more of a laundry list of reasons (failed administration political appointments, the "gays in the military" issue, "Travelgate," the burning of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, political infighting at the White House, the Wall Street Journal's editorials, the Clintons' tax returns and blind trust, and Health Care Task Force litigation) the clinical depression claim alone would tend to forestall further inquiry by subjecting outside investigators in the media and elsewhere to charges of insensitivity and political partisanship ('scurrilous right wing kooks with cockamamie theories profiteering on the death of Vince Foster' being a typical composite allegation).
There are gaping holes in the attempt to paint Foster as clinically depressed. Apparently casting about for a physical symptom of clinical depression, Fiske reported that Foster's weight loss was "obvious to many" (media accounts shortly after the death placed the weight loss at 12-15 pounds), but Foster's medical records are consistent: Foster lost no weight, based on his weight just before starting his White House job and his weight when he died on July 20, 1993.
Fiske reported that the Foster family doctor had prescribed an "anti-depressant" the day before the death, but the doctor -- a long-time family friend -- told the FBI that he did not think Foster was significantly depressed and that he felt the prescription in question was merely to help Foster sleep better. The specific drug and the single
daily 50 milligram dose said to have been prescribed for the 6' 4" 200-pound Foster - the smallest tablet manufactured -- corroborates the doctor's insomnia explanation.
The handwritten FBI interview notes of the widow state that Foster had been "fighting" taking a "prescription" for sleeping pills ("Restoril," generic name "tamazepam," a benzodiazepine) dispensed several months earlier for this same insomnia (according to his widow, Foster was concerned the sleeping pills could be addictive), but the typed FD-302 report of the interview states in the equivalent location that Foster had been "fighting depression," a significant alteration in wording by the FBI, apparently made to buttress the official claims that Foster was depressed.
What did the Park Police learn about Foster's recent mental state when they spoke to family members and close friends the night of the death? Despite contemporary media reports that the Park Police were denied entrance, two Park Police investigators each spent 70 minutes in the Foster home that night. The investigators' depositions provide significant information regarding the real-time perspective of Foster's family and friends immediately after they learned of the death and several days before those closest to the administration began to bruit about allegations of clinical depression.
Based on the numerous statements that surfaced several days after the death that Foster had been struggling with clinical depression for several weeks, the numerous relatives and close friends who gathered at the Foster home the night of the death should have been describing to the investigators (and to each other) symptoms of clinical depression they had observed in Foster.
This is emphatically not what the two investigators discovered in their 70 minutes asking spent asking questions at the Foster home that night. Presumably, the dozen or so friends and family who were present (many of them attorneys) realized that the investigators were not present to make idle social chit-chat, but were conducting a formal investigation into the death of a high-ranking federal official, and took the questions they were asked seriously.
Here are some quotes from the Senate depositions and testimony about the interviews conducted that night: One of the last things I got from Mrs. Foster -- I asked her was he -- did you see this coming, was [sic] there any signs of this. ... everyone said no, no, no, no, he was fine. This is out of the blue ... [Foster's sister, Sheila Anthony] was talking with us ... I spoke with her, [the other Park Police Investigator present in the Foster home] spoke with her. She was very cordial. I remember asking her, did you see
any of this coming, and she stated, no. Nobody would say anything about depression or that they noticed some signs, they were worried." "[We] asked, was there anything, did you see this forthcoming [sic], was there anything different about him, has he been depressed, and all the answers were no." The Senate staff attorney asked the investigator if he found out Foster was taking any medication, specifically any anti-depressant drug:
Q: Did anyone at the notification [the death notification at the Foster home, 9:00 - 10:10 PM EDT on July 20] mention depression or anti-depressant medication that Foster might have been taking?
A: I mentioned depression, did you see this coming, were there any signs, has he been taking any medication? No. All negative answers.
Moldea reports none of this information and instead incorrectly writes that the investigators at the Foster home that night wanted to find out about any drugs Foster was taking, but had been unable to do so.
Lab work done as a part of the autopsy tested Foster's blood, vitreous humor, and urine, and included specific tests (all performed by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Division of Forensic Science) for the presence of antidepressants, including particular tests for the presence of "tricyclic antidepressants" and "benzodiazepines," even though the Park Police investigators had been specifically told by family members and close friends that Foster was not taking any anti-depressant medication. The tests came up completely negative for all anti-depressant drugs, specifically excluding the presence of any "tricyclic antidepressants" or "benzodiazepines."
The first claim that Foster had been taking anti-depressant medication, came from Lisa Foster nine days after her husband's death. She told the Park Police on July 29 that Foster had taken Trazodone [Desyrel] the night before his death. Indeed, in the words of the widow's subsequent, and only, FBI interview:
"How were you aware that your husband took one 50 mg. Dose of Trazodone on the evening of 7/19/93?"
"LF [Lisa Foster] told VF [Vince Foster] to take one and she also saw him take it."
The night of the death, when asked by the Park Police investigators if her husband had been taking any medication, specifically any anti-depressant medication, she said he was not taking any, even though a few days later she told other Park Police investigators Foster had taken anti-depressant medication just one day before his death and later told the FBI that she had told her husband to take the anti-depressant and had watched him take it. The "new" information first surfaced in the only other contact that the Park Police were permitted to have with the widow, a 50-minute session in her attorney's office that ended at 5:00 PM sharp, three days after the discovery of the torn note and two days after the widow and her attorney had attended a meeting at the White House to discuss the then still-secret torn note.
This interview had at least one other unusual aspect. According to the deposition of the senior officer conducting the interview: "You know, we didn't have to question her a whole lot." The widow gave more of a verbal statement than an interview, he said. Indicating that he thought Mrs. Foster was "happy to get some things off her chest," the senior Park Police officer also considered that "she had gone over it with her lawyer so many times she had it down pat ... I don't think we ever asked her a direct question ... We did not interview any of the Foster children [the youngest of the three about to start his senior year of high school]. [The widow's attorney] would not make them accessible to us."
It was not until a re-test of the blood some months later by the FBI Lab that, mirabile dictu, the presence of both a tricyclic anti-depressant (Trazodone) and a benzodiazepine (Valium) in Foster's blood was reported by a lab analysis -- in time to buttress the June 30, 1994 Fiske Report claims that Mr. Foster was clinically depressed.
The completely contradictory Virginia Division of Forensic Science report (based on freshly drawn samples) was not made public (and then only on request) until after the Fiske Report was released and few paid any attention to it any more than to the immediate post-death denials by the widow, other family members, and close friends that Foster was either "down" or was taking any antidepressant medication.
Of course, FBI whistle-blower Frederick Whitehurst was complaining internally during this period that the FBI Lab was playing fast and loose with the truth in its analysis reports, claims that have since become public and, based on Whitehurst's recent sizable cash settlement with the FBI and still-outstanding legal actions, appear to have been well-justified.
Moldea considers the prior conflicting lab report "curious," but insignificant, even in the context of the original lab report reporting no anti-depressant drugs, the universal denials the night of the death that Foster was depressed or taking antidepressant medication (Moldea does not mention the other data provided above).
Perhaps the most succinct example of the stark timing of the change in the official line from "no depression" to "depression" was provided by Beryl Anthony, Foster's brother-in-law (married to Foster's sister, Sheila, then an Assistant Attorney General). Moldea quotes from a Beryl Anthony interview on Thursday, July 22. Asked if Foster had been depressed during the two weeks prior to his death, Anthony's said: "There is not a damn thing to it. That's a bunch of crap."
However, on July 27 (the torn note's existence was turned over to the
Park Police the night of the 27th) when Anthony was interviewed by the Park Police he, like Lisa Foster, did a "180." Per the interview report:
"Mr. Anthony stated that he and his wife had noticed a gradual decline in Mr. Foster's general disposition to the point of depression. ... During the month preceding Mr. Foster's death, Mr. Anthony stated that he and his wife noticed that Mr. Foster's depression had become increasingly worse and became very worried about Foster's well-being. [So much so that] his wife had given Mr. Foster a list of three counselors, psychiatrists or other doctors who do counseling."
Moldea does not mention that Foster's weight gain in the six months reported in Foster's medical records was corroborated by his widow. Indeed, according to Moldea, "She also says he was losing [emphasis added] weight" in her interview with Fiske's investigators. However, according to the widow's FBI interview (the typed FD-302 and the handwritten interview notes are consistent on this point): "She believed
that most of the weight which Foster had lost by that time ["when Lisa Foster ... arrived in Washington, D.C."] had been lost prior to his arrival in Washington, D.C."
Lisa Foster arrived in Washington on June 5, 1993, having stayed in Little Rock so her youngest son could finish his junior year of high school there. Her husband arrived in Washington in January 1993, so the widow is saying that Foster did lose weight, but that the weight loss took place prior to January 1993 when he joined the administration.
Foster's medical records indicate he weighed 207 pounds in August of 1990. On December 31, 1992, at a physical the month before he went to Washington, he weighed 194 pounds (a thirteen pound drop) and, according to his doctor's notes, was on a diet and exercising. Foster's weight at the autopsy was 197 pounds. A weight gain of about three pounds (194 to 197) in seven months is not particularly significant. However, it certainly is not "a weight loss obvious to many" (Fiske) nor is it the 12-15 pound weight loss claimed in the media beginning a few days after his death.
In all likelihood the weight gain was significantly more than three pounds because Foster probably did not strip naked for the doctor's nurse when he was weighed -- on December 31, 1992, or at any other appointment. If he was not nude for his weigh-in, his "stripped" weight would have been a pound or two less than 194.
Furthermore, the 197 pound weight at the autopsy was a stripped weight, a stripped weight that obviously did not include the large amount of blood (two or three pints?) Foster officially lost both at the park (Fiske: "Those present observed a large pool of blood ...") and later in the body bag (Starr: "... found a large amount of blood in the body bag"). Taking these adjustments into account, the claimed "weight loss obvious to many" was likely a 1993 weight gain of about 6 pounds between December 31, 1992, and July 20, 1993.
Moldea believes that Foster gained weight in the early months of 1993
because he was "eating more junk food," but that Foster started losing weight "as his depression set in during the latter weeks of his life." Anyone espousing the idea that Foster's loss of appetite as he became more depressed made him lose weight near the end of his life must contend with the à la carte lunch Foster personally selected and had a secretary deliver to his office before leaving the White House for the last time at about 1:10 PM, officially bent on killing himself: A medium-rare cheeseburger, fries, a coke, and some M&Ms.
According to interviews with the office staff, he ate it all, as he read the newspaper in his office, except the raw onion, which he decided to remove from his burger (had he forgotten to tell the secretary "Hold the onions"?), and a few M&Ms. As he left the White House for the last time, officially en route to his own suicide (having first checked out a White House Communications Agency pager), he said, "I'll be back, there are M&M's left in my office."
Finally, what did the three secretaries in the White House Office of Legal Counsel tell the Park Police two days after the death about Foster's mental state? "There was nothing unusual about his emotional state. In fact, over the last several weeks she did not notice any changes, either physically or emotionally. She noticed no weight loss.
#1 "Mr. Foster's demeanor seemed normal to her. ...
#2 "She stated that she did not note any unusual behavior by Mr. Foster on [the day he died]
#3 "Foster's own secretary]."
There are dozens of other material discrepancies, each with their own
supporting details. A partial list:
Starr's forensic expert reports he found blood stains up to 1 millimeter in size on each side of each lens of Foster's glasses (in an attempt to prove the glasses, found 19 feet up-range from his head, were on Foster's face when shot), but both the Park Police and the FBI Lab reports explicitly state that there was no blood on the glasses.
An agent's memo to the head of the Technical Security Division of the Secret Service describes the FBI as having removed evidence from Foster's desk (officially, of course, that did not happen) and refers to the discovery of a letter from Foster (apparently the night of the death) that was not the "torn note" found six days later.
Starr's forensic expert reports his examination of Foster's shirt and slacks showed no sign the body had been dragged (an attempt to refute arguments that the body was moved to or within the park), but the lead investigator at the body site, the medical examiner, and the investigator charged with taking notes all report that the body slid down the berm and that they dragged the body up the slope (a ~40 degree slope), stopping only when he body was higher up the slope than it was originally.
Starr's forensic expert reports possible down-range blood spatter and splatter on the vegetation in the Polaroid photos taken of the body, but no one at the site states they saw any; several observers affirmatively state there was none present (including the lead investigator at the body site and the medical examiner; its absence is a classic indicator that a gunshot victim with a through-and-through wound died elsewhere).
The bizarre harassment of Patrick Knowlton by some two dozen individuals, a federal grand jury witness who saw items and events inconsistent with the conclusions of the official reports in Fort Marcy Park about an hour before Foster's body was found and who refused to change his story under repeated FBI questioning (Knowlton convinced the judges supervising Starr to make his 20-page rebuttal of Starr's Foster investigation a part of the Starr Report).
The medical examiner's field report was altered on page one to change the description of the exit wound; whoever made the alteration failed to alter the same language on page two, leaving the description on page two inconsistent with suicide by gunshot (A telex to the FBI Director, liberated in a FOIA suit after Moldea's book had gone to press states there was no exit wound, a finding that directly contradicts the exit wound in the upper rear of the head described in the autopsy report).
Numerous instances of systematic alterations in witness accounts: information in many handwritten witness interview reports was changed in he typed interview reports in a systematic way in order to support the official conclusions (other witness accounts were simply suppressed in the top-level reports).
In many cases, the top-level reports systematically alter the times reported in the underlying investigative record, apparently in an attempt to document the officially alleged delay in notifying the White House of Foster's death.
Much of the information used in the top-level reports to prove that
the gun belonged to the family is contradicted by the underlying record.
I differ with Dan Moldea: I believe any fair-minded individual familiar with the investigative record of the Foster death will conclude, at a minimum, that a sizable and ongoing cover-up of material aspects of this death exists.