Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster’s body was found in Fort Marcy Park in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., on July 20, 1993. He was purportedly found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Suspicious activities and investigations before and after his death led to conspiracy theories, doubts, and lingering questions.
A Park Police Investigation later declared it to be a suicide. Foster was 48 then and left behind a wife and three children. Other investigations would ensue.
Notably, Vincent Foster was the highest-ranking government official to die in suspicious circumstances since John F. Kennedy.
There were many baffling questions and suspicions about his death.
Based on the evidence, analyses, and conclusions, Dr. Brian Blackbourne concluded that “Vincent Foster committed suicide on July 20, 1993, in Ft. Marcy Park by placing a .38 caliber revolver in his mouth and pulling the trigger. His death was at his own hand.” (In 1995, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had hired San Diego Medical Examiner Dr. Blackbourne to examine Foster’s case.)
Originally a lawyer in Arkansas, Foster joined Bill Clinton’s presidential transition team in 1992. He became Deputy White House Counsel soon after in 1993.
Vince Foster was Deputy White House Counsel and the Personal Attorney to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Foster’s roots with the Clintons stretched back to Hope, Arkansas, where he partnered with Hillary at the Rose Law Firm during Bill Clinton’s time as Governor. More than a business partner, Foster was a close friend.
A Suspicious Exit
On the morning of Tuesday, July 20, 1993, six months into the Clinton Administration, Foster drove his Gray Honda Accord to the White House after dropping his children off on the way to work.
Foster attended the morning Rose Garden ceremony announcing the nomination of Louis J. Freeh to be the New Director of the FBI.
He ate lunch on the couch of his office. Then, at about 1 p.m., Vince Foster picked up his suit coat but not his briefcase and breezed from the office, saying, “I’ll be back.” He was seen by his assistant and two others leaving.
No investigation revealed where he went after leaving the White House, nor anyone who definitively saw him.
His car was seen in the Fort Marcy parking lot about three hours later, his suit jacket neatly folded on the passenger seat. At about 5:30 p.m., his body was discovered by a private citizen next to a Civil War cannon.
Fort Marcy Park is located approximately 6.5 miles by car from downtown Washington. A parking lot for the park is adjacent to the outbound side of the GW Parkway. Inside the park, as of July 1993, were two cannons—one closer to the GW Parkway and a second (the one near which Mr. Foster was found) closer to Chain Bridge Road. That second cannon is approximately 200 yards from the parking area. The trees, brush, and hills within the park were such that one would not walk in a straight line from the parking lot to the second cannon. One observer reported that particular vegetation in the area appeared trampled; however, no one else reported such an observation.
Foster had supposedly shot himself once in the mouth with an old revolver.
However, details didn’t quite add up. For instance, no fingerprints were found on the gun. The person who first saw the body said that there was no gun at all. His pager’s memory had been erased, as well. And there was even a question of whether or not his body had been moved from another location.
There was no record of any effort to canvass the neighborhood near the time of the death to determine whether anyone had seen or heard relevant information.
Vincent Foster’s Last Day Alive
8:00 am: Foster leaves home for work. Drives daughter to work and son to Metro station.
9:00 am: Foster attends the counsel’s office daily staff meeting.
9:40: Rose Garden ceremony ends.
9:50: Deborah Gorham states Foster arrived at the counsel suite.
10:30: Foster leaves his office for an unknown location.
11:30: Foster returns to the office and stops at Nussbaum’s office. Nussbaum offers congratulations for the apparent success of the nominations of Louis Freeh and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court.
12pm: Linda Tripp, Foster’s Executive Assistant, said Foster asked her to get his lunch from the White House cafeteria. White House claims Foster ate lunch in his office.
1pm: Foster leaves White House counsel’s office. A Secret Service Officer sees Foster exit the West Wing. This was the last sighting of Foster alive.
At approximately 4:30pm, Motorist Patrick Knowlton drives into Fort Marcy’s parking lot. He reported seeing a Dark Brown Honda with Arkansas license plates.
Approx. 5:15pm: A couple drive into Fort Marcy’s lot. They reported observing two men in and around the Honda.
Approx. 5:30pm: A witness reported that he entered the parking lot. He reported finding Foster’s body in front of the second cannon. The witness then drove to nearby parkway headquarters to notify authorities.
Approx. 5:59pm Park Service employee Francis Swann calls Fairfax County 911, notifying them of a possible dead body in Fort March. Swann makes a second call to Park Police.
Fairfax Fire and Rescue personnel and Park Police Officers arrive. A dead body was located in the park. An Officer radios Park Police Headquarters and notifies them of a “suicide” in the park.
Park Police investigators and supervisors begin to arrive at the park.
Approx. 6:30pm: Paramedics return from the death scene to the parking lot. Paramedic reported seeing Park Police entering Foster’s car in search of identification.
Approx. 6:45pm: Fairfax Fire and Rescue workers returned to the station and reported to the station supervisor that a White House official was found dead in the park.
Approx. 7:40pm: Fiske reported that Dr. Donald Haut, the Medical Examiner, arrived to view the death scene.
Approx. 8pm: Fairfax ambulance arrives at the park to pick up the body and transport it to the morgue.
Approx. 8:30pm: Hillary Clinton’s plane makes an unscheduled stop in Little Rock, returning to Washington from a West Coast trip.
Approx. 8:45pm: Park Police Investigators Cheryl Braun and John Rolla clear the scene. They drive to the morgue to retrieve Foster’s car keys. The Park Police Evidence/Property Control Receipt shows that Braun recovered two rings of keys from Foster’s front pocket.
Lead Park Police Investigator testified that he entered Foster’s Honda in search of Foster’s identification, and only then was the White House notified.
Approx. 8:45pm: CNN makeup artist preparing President Clinton for Larry King Live overheard the president being informed about the finding of a document in Foster’s office.
Approx. 9pm: President Clinton appears on CNN’s Larry King Live program from the White House Library.
Approx. 9:25pm: Foster’s Gray Honda towed from Fort Marcy Park.
While the Park Police were investigating, Foster’s office at the White House was being looted. A Secret Service agent watched Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff Margaret Williams carry boxes of papers out before the Park Police showed up to seal it.
Three witnesses noted that the Director of Administration was desperate to find the combination to Foster’s safe. It was finally opened with the help of a special MIG technical team signed into the White House in the late hours. Two envelopes reported to be in the safe by Foster’s secretary addressed to Janet Reno and William Kennedy III were never seen again. When asked the next day regarding rumors of the safe opening, McLarty told reporters Foster’s office did not even have a safe, a claim immediately shot down by former occupants of that office.
The next day, when the Park Police arrived for the official search of Foster’s office, they were shocked to learn that Nussbaum, Thomason, and Williams had entered the office. Conflicts channeled through Reno’s Department of Justice resulted in the Park Police merely sitting outside Foster’s office while Bernard Nussbaum continued his search of Foster’s office. During this search, he opened and upended Foster’s briefcase, showing it to be empty. Three days later, it was claimed that this same briefcase was where the torn-up note was discovered.
One set of billing records, under subpoena for two years and thought to have originated in Foster’s office, turned up unexpectedly in the private quarters of the White House with Hillary’s fingerprints on them.
So, who ordered the unofficial search of Foster’s office?
President Clinton was unavailable, being on camera with Larry King.
Approx. 10pm: Clinton departs the King program and takes the elevator to residential quarters. McLarty informs him of Foster’s death.
Approx. 10pm: Park Police arrive at Foster’s Georgetown home and notify the family of Foster’s death.
President Bill Clinton Delivers a Statement regarding the Death of Vincent Foster
July 21, 1993: The Rose Garden, White House, Washington, D.C. Video Footage Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Produced by the White House Television crew.
Why Would Vincent Foster Commit Suicide?
Investigators were not aware of a single, obvious triggering event that might have motivated Mr. Foster to commit suicide.
The Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) retained Dr. Alan Berman to review and analyze state-of-mind evidence gathered by the OIC during its investigation.
Dr. Berman reported that Mr. Foster’s “last 96 hours show clear signs of crisis and uncharacteristic vulnerability.” As to the Fort Marcy Park location, Dr. Berman reported that Mr. Foster “was ambivalent to the end” and may have driven for a while before going to the park. He may have “simply and inadvertently happened upon the park, or he may have picked it off the area map found in his car.
In sum, Dr. Berman, based on his evaluation of the evidence, concluded: “In 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.”
Dr. Berman concluded that compelling evidence exists that Mr. Foster was distressed or depressed in a manner consistent with suicide.
During the 1993 investigation, the Laboratory of the Virginia Division of Forensic Science found that the blood, vitreous humor, and urine were negative for alcohols and ketones. The Lab did not detect phencyclidine, morphine, cocaine or benzoylecgonine; other alkaline extractable drugs, or acidic or neutral drugs.
The FBI Lab later conducted more sensitive testing and determined that the blood sample from Foster contained trazodone. Trazodone was an antidepressant medication prescribed as Desyrel prescribed by his physician. His wife produced the prescription container with 29 tablets enclosed. The label indicated that it initially contained 30 tablets.
What did the White House know, and when did they know it?
If Foster was not identified as a White House official until at least an hour and a half after police arrived, why were police officers associated with an elite federal unit on the scene within 45 minutes? This suggests that the White House officials were informed of Foster’s death at least an hour before they claimed to have been initially notified. At that time, the FBI signed off on the Park Police probe.
According to Retired Arkansas State Trooper Larry Patterson, who had guarded the Clintons for more than six years, on the day of Vince Foster’s death, he learned about the death before the Park Police even found Foster’s body and hours before the White House said they were informed. Patterson’s information was corroborated by another trooper.
The gunshot death of a high-ranking White House lawyer who had been a lawyer partner of Hillary Clinton, First Lady of the United States, and friend to President Clinton was bound to be heavily scrutinized. Many issues have been identified, raising questions about the ultimate conclusion that Foster committed suicide.
The primary issues included:
- The cause and manner of Foster’s death.
- Forensic issues: Dr. Lee reported that one photograph of the scene showed a view of the vegetation in the areas where Foster’s body was found. Reddish-brown, blood-like stains could be seen on several vegetation leaves. No intensive review of the area under and around Foster’s body occurred on July 20 or during the 1993 Park Police investigation.
- There are apparent differences in the statements of private witnesses, Park Police personnel, and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department personnel regarding their activities and observations.
- Physical evidence, such as the fatal bullet, was not recovered.
- The Park Police Investigators took charge of the case rather than an official FBI investigation. Coincidentally, the day before, on July 19, President Clinton fired FBI Director William Sessions.
- The Autopsy
- Lack of Complete and High-Quality Crime Scene Photographs
Vincent Foster’s White House Dealings
The White House Travel Office matter, in particular, was the subject of public controversy beginning in May 1993 and continuing through Foster’s death. Criticism focused on the White House’s handling of the matter before and after the May 19 firings. Legislation enacted on July 2, 1993, required the General Accounting Office to investigate the Travel Office firings. There was a possibility of congressional review and/or a GAO investigation. During the week of July 12, Foster contacted private attorneys seeking advice regarding this incident.
A flashpoint of controversy arose when Hillary Clinton demanded Foster fire seven employees from the travel office that served the White House press corps. There was an immediate uproar and accusations of cronyism (a distant cousin of Bill was to be put in charge of the office).
Foster was made the lightening rod and was racked with guilt and anxiety over the entire situation. Many of his friends, family, and coworkers say the work exacted such a heavy toll he was taking anti-depressants and intended to resign.
At some point in the last weeks of his life, Foster wrote a note that he had “made mistakes from ignorance, inexperience and overwork” and that he “was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington.” The note was already torn into pieces when given to the Park Police.
During that same period, according to Foster’s superior, Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, Vincent’s work effort decreased noticeably. Family and friends reported that Foster was considering resigning. Another witness said that he was told by Mr. Nussbaum that Foster’s work product had deteriorated, and that Foster had seemed distracted.
Foster’s wife said that her husband cried while talking to her on Friday night, July 16, and mentioned resigning during the weekend of July 16-18.
On Monday, July 19, Foster contacted his physician in Little Rock and was prescribed an antidepressant. The doctor said Foster complained of anorexia and insomnia. They discussed several medications to help with any ulcer symptoms as he was under a lot of stress. He was concerned about the criticism they were getting and the long hours he was working at the White House. The doctor reported that it was unusual for Foster to call him directly. His wife said he took one tablet of the antidepressant medicine on the night of the 19th.
“Don’t believe a word you hear. It was not suicide. It couldn’t have been.” ~Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell, July 20, 1993.
The Gun Supposedly Used to Commit Suicide
The man who found the body said he walked up to within 3 feet of the body, and he looked right down into the glazed eyes of Vincent Foster, and he said the head was straight up. He looked at both hands, and there was no gun in either hand. He reported that both hands were at his side. He reported three times that he looked very closely and was absolutely sure that there was no gun.
However, Park Police Officers found that a 1913 revolver was in his hand. At the time, no family member could identify the gun. It was discovered that it had two serial numbers.
Significant questions were raised about the unusual gun—a .38 Colt revolver made from the parts of three or more guns with two serial numbers—found conveniently in Foster’s hand.
The Park Police said one of the serial numbers indicated the gun was vintage 1913 and had no pedigree.
At the time, Foster’s family insisted neither Foster nor his father ever owned the old revolver.
The NCIC keeps records of all law enforcement inquiries of serial numbers.
On March 23, 2001, the FBI responded to requests made by a man named Craig Brinkley:
Serial number 356555 is one of the numbers on the gun.
Serial number 355055 was found on the frame of the gun. Brinkley believes that was the gun’s real number.
That number was indeed searched by the Park Police on the evening of Foster’s death, more precisely at 22:45 EDT on July 20, 1993.
Interestingly, searches were conducted on the same serial number no fewer than three times earlier that year, before Foster’s death, on March 3, March 7, and April 29.
Was someone checking to see that this gun had a clean pedigree and was untraceable?
An ATF report on the gun’s two serial numbers revealed a purchase at the Seattle Hardware Company in Seattle, Washington, on September 14, 1913, and at the Gus Habich Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 29, 1913. The gun could not be further traced. Laboratory examination of the gun found no indication of any alteration of the serial number of the weapon. . . . The additional serial number on the crane of the firearm most likely occurred at some time when the eighty-year-old weapon was repaired. There is no realistic way to determine when such a repair occurred. The exchange of the two numbers between the frame and the crane is a condition noted on many similar firearms in the Laboratory’s Reference Firearms Collection and is not considered significant.
The FBI report on Vince Foster’s death.
No Fingerprints Initially Found on the Gun
Fiske’s report said the hot summer day may have melted the fingerprints off the gun. The report says that the right hand had a gun in it. The thumb was in the trigger guard, and the hand was down underneath the leg, in the foliage.
The FBI Laboratory, during its examination on June 9, 1994, found one latent fingerprint on the underside of the pistol grip—not on an exterior surface of the gun. This fingerprint was compared to prints of Foster and evidence technicians who initially handled the gun, but no identifications were effected. The FBI Lab’s report on August 14, 1995, noted that this print would have been left by someone who assembled or disassembled the gun, for example, to repair it, put on new grips, or for some other reason.
Dr. Lee concluded that “the revolver was consistent with the weapon which resulted in the death of Mr. Vincent Foster. The barrel of this weapon was likely in Mr. Foster’s mouth at the time the weapon was discharged. Gunshot residue noted on Mr. Foster’s right hand and the lesser amount of deposits on his left hand indicated that Mr. Foster held the weapon when it was fired.”
At the autopsy, clothing was removed from Mr. Foster’s body and placed on a table in the autopsy room. Park Police Officer placed this clothing in a single bag for return to the Park Police office. There, brown wrapping paper was laid on the floor of a photography room, and the clothes were placed on that paper. The clothes were left to dry in the photography room until Monday, July 26, when a technician packaged the clothing and put it into an evidence locker.
As reported, because the clothing was packaged together before trace evidence was collected, specific trace evidence could not be conclusively linked to particular items of clothing that Foster was wearing at the time of his death.
An FBI microscopic investigation of Foster’s shoes initially found no trace of soil or grass stains on his shoes, though he supposedly walked through the wooded park to where his body was found. Years later, however, Starr’s investigation found plenty of soil and grass stains. However, Miguel Rodriquez charged that the shoes were tampered with to produce such evidence.
The Missing Fatal Bullet
During the Park Police, Fiske, and OIC investigations, searches were conducted of Fort Marcy Park for the bullet that caused Foster’s death.
On July 22, 1993, four Park Police officers searched with a metal detector the immediate area where the body was found. Their search was unsuccessful.
The Fiske investigation, which took place 9 months after Mr. Foster’s death, never found the bullet. They supposedly had expert people going all over the place with all kinds of modern technological equipment. They found all kinds of other bullets, even Civil War bullets that were buried under the soil. But they did not find the bullet that killed Vincent Foster.
Later, with the assistance of Dr. Lee, the National Park Service, and a large number of investigators, the OIC organized a broader search for the fatal bullet. Because a search covering the maximum range estimates would have included a vast area, a search that was limited in scope to the highest probability areas, closer to the minimum range estimates, was undertaken. The search was led by Richard Graham, an expert in crime scene metal detection. The search did not uncover the fatal bullet.
It was presumed that the bullet could have cleared the treetops and landed well outside the park. Because dense foliage and trees surround the area where Foster’s body lay, there was a distinct possibility the bullet’s trajectory was altered due to its striking or ricocheting off a natural or man-made obstruction.
A congressman would later ask for a re-opening of the investigation, citing that the FBI never found the fatal bullet or skull fragments—and none of Foster’s teeth were “broken, as is customary in a self-inflicted gunshot wound through the mouth.”
The Autopsy of Vincent Foster
Dr. Beyer, who performed the autopsy, found a large amount of blood in the body bag, indicating that more blood drained from the body during movement from Fort Marcy Park to the autopsy.
All six persons who attended the autopsy and who were unable to examine the body itself confirmed that there were no wounds on Mr. Foster’s body other than the mouth-head bullet wound.
Dr. Blackbourne later concluded that Foster “fired the gun with the muzzle in his mouth, his right thumb pulling the trigger and supporting the gun with both hands and with both index fingers relatively close to the cylinder gap.
Dr. Blackbourne concluded that the blood draining from the right nostril and right side of the mouth, as documented by Polaroid scene photos, suggests that an early observer may have caused movement of the head. One report noted that “a pool of blood was, in fact, found under the head of the deceased when the body was turned, and the upper back of his shirt was noted to be blood-soaked.”
Despite the enormity of the case, Foster’s autopsy lasted an astounding 45 minutes. The coroner in the case had previously been overruled in other cases he declared “suicides” that were later found to be murders.
No X-Ray of the Body
Foster’s body was not x-rayed because the county coroner in Virginia said the x-ray machine was broken. Why didn’t they find another x-ray machine? If there were fragments found in the skull, that would reveal more information regarding how far the bullet may have traveled if it had exited his skull at that particular location.
The primary purpose of X-rays in this case, given the nature of the entrance and exit wounds, would have been to determine whether any bullet fragments remained in the head. Dr. Beyer reported that he felt confident without the x-rays that “you can examine the brain for a bullet or bullet fragments and identify them.” Beyer, his assistant, and four Park Police officers at the autopsy all recalled that he examined the head and brain (and dissected the brain) and found no bullet or fragments.
Hair & Fibers: The Fiske report says blonde hair, carpet fibers, and wool fibers were found on Foster’s body and clothing. Whose hair was it? Fiske initially said, “While we have not concluded where this blonde hair came from, there is no evidence to suggest that it provides any evidence of circumstances connected to this death.
The OIC investigators sought to determine a possible source for the fibers. The logical known sources were carpets from locations with which Foster was known to have been in contact—his car, home, and workplace. The FBI Lab determined that the white fibers obtained from Foster’s clothing were consistent with the samples obtained from their home. Four white fibers were consistent with samples obtained from the White House or Foster’s car.
Crime Scene Photographs
Complete crime scene photos don’t exist. The Park Police said all the photos were “accidentally” overexposed or under-developed. This is just a summary of the many inconsistencies in the case.
Dr. Henry Lee later explained that a perfect reconstruction of the circumstances of Foster’s death was not possible at the time of the OIC’s investigation. The reasons included the lack of complete documentation of the original shooting scene; the lack of subsequent records and photographs of each item of physical evidence before examination; the lack of x-rays of Mr. Foster’s body from the autopsy; the lack of documentation of the amount of blood, tissue, bone fragments in the areas at the scene under and around Mr. Foster’s head; the lack of close-up photographs of any definite patterns and quantity of the bloodstains found on his clothing and body at the scene; and the unknown location of the fatal bullet, which makes complete reconstruction of the bullet trajectory difficult.
The Suspicious Note
On July 26, a note supposedly written by Foster was found in the bottom of his briefcase, which was in his office. Like the gun, there were no fingerprints found.
It was reported that they looked into his briefcase on two separate occasions, looking for evidence concerning his suicide, and found nothing.
The third time they looked, they found 27 pieces of torn paper. It was unsigned, undated, and bore no fingerprints when put together.
How did White House officials miss a note torn into 27 pieces in the bottom of his briefcase during their first two searches of his office?
Was the Note a Forgery?
At the request of the Park Police, the U.S. Capitol Police performed a handwriting analysis of the note, comparing it to a copy of a handwritten letter of Mr. Foster that had been provided by his wife. The U.S. Capitol Police concluded that “both the Known and Questioned Documents were completed by the same writer/author and that writer/author is known as Vincent W. Foster.” Report of the United States Capitol Police, Identification Section, July 29, 1993.
At the request of the OIC, the FBI Laboratory compared the original note to four original pages of known writing obtained from the documents that were in his office at the time of his death. The FBI Lab determined that Foster wrote the note.
The OIC also retained an independent handwriting expert. He compared the original note to four original pages of Vincent’s known writing, and 18 original checks bearing the available writing of Foster. Lesnevich concluded that the written text on the note “contained normal, natural and spontaneous writing variations. These normal, natural, and spontaneous writing variations could be found in the letter formations, beginning strokes, ending strokes, connecting strokes, etc.”
Later, on October 25, 1995, a press conference was held announcing the findings of three handwriting experts that the torn note was a forgery.
In the months following Foster’s death, rumors swirled that a hit man had murdered him because “he knew too much” about the Whitewater real estate investment scandal, along with other Clinton misdeeds.
Where Was Vincent Foster Between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.?
Was he meeting with someone? His diary was missing. Park Police later discovered that Whitewater records had been removed from Vince Foster’s office during a second search after they visited James Hamilton, Foster’s lawyer, a week after the death to review a personal diary that was also taken during one of the searches. Hamilton allowed Park Police to inspect the diary briefly, but they couldn’t make a copy due to privacy concerns and he refused a request for access to the diary and documents by the Justice Department.
The 1993 National Park Service Investigation
Why were they investigating this case instead of the FBI, which has much more experience with this type of investigation?
Because Mr. Foster’s body was found in Fort Marcy, a park maintained by the National Park Service, the U.S. Park Police investigated his death. Mr. Foster’s body was transported to Fairfax County Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. The next day, Dr. James Beyer, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, conducted an autopsy in the presence of an assistant and four Park Police officers.
The FBI assisted the Park Police in certain aspects of the ensuing death investigation, as did other Federal and Virginia agencies.
On August 10, 1993, the DOJ, FBI, and Park Police jointly announced the results of the death and note investigations. The Park Police concluded that Foster committed suicide by gunshot in Fort Marcy Park. Peter Langston, Chief of the Park Police, explained:
“The condition of the scene, the medical examiner’s findings, and the information gathered clearly indicate that Mr. Foster committed suicide. Without an eyewitness, the conclusion of suicide is deducted after a review of the injury, the presence of the weapon, the existence of some indicators of a reason, and the elimination of murder. Our investigation has found no evidence of foul play. The information gathered from associates, relatives, and friends provide us with enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Foster was anxious about his work and he was distressed to the degree that he took his own life.”
Vince Foster’s Vehicle
Associate White House Counsel eventually took possession of Foster’s car on behalf of the family after the Park Police released it on July 28, 1993. He maintained contents of the car that had not been taken into evidence by the Park Police, and he produced those contents to investigators from Mr. Fiske’s office. The contents included a kitchen oven mitt that had been in the glove compartment. Park Police recalled the oven mitt in the glove compartment on July 20. The mitt was depicted in the Park Police photographs of the car taken at the impound lot on July 21.
Dr. Lee reported that sunflower-type seed husks were located on the inner surfaces of the oven mitt. These sunflower seed particles were similar to those found in Foster’s front, left pants pocket. There was no other evidence that anyone other than Foster did place or would have placed this or any other gun into Foster’s pants pocket and the oven mitt. These pieces of evidence tended to link Foster to the gun and thus tend to refute a theory that the manner of death was not suicide. It is consistent with a scenario in which Foster transported the gun from his home in the oven mitt and carried it in his pants pocket as he walked from his car into Fort Marcy Park to the berm near the second cannon.
The FBI Investigation
The FBI, at the direction of the Department of Justice, opened a separate investigation of possible obstruction of justice after a note was reportedly found on Monday, July 26, 1993, in Mr. Foster’s briefcase at the White House. Based on the evidence the FBI gathered in its investigation, the DOJ did not seek criminal charges for obstruction of justice relating to the handling of the note.
If Vince Foster was Clinton’s personal attorney and friend, why didn’t the President immediately order the FBI to take charge of the entire investigation instead of allowing the Park Police to take charge? They did not have the experience to conduct this kind of investigation. The Park Police did a great job in many respects, but they were not qualified to do this.
The Office of Independent Counsels Investigation
The OIC devoted substantial effort to gathering, examining, and analyzing evidence to render as conclusive a determination as possible of the cause and manner of Foster’s death. In this kind of investigation—a reconstruction based in part on evidence gathered and tested during prior investigations—the important information in assessing the cause and manner of death included testimonial, documentary, and photographic evidence relating to the scene and the autopsy; a variety of tests and analyses of the evidence; and testimonial and documentary evidence revealing the decedent’s activities and state of mind in the days and weeks before his death.
Vincent Foster’s Background
Mr. Foster graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he was Managing Editor of the Law Review. He joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock as an associate and became a member in 1974.
Foster left the Rose Law Firm and moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as Deputy White House Counsel. President Clinton and Foster had known each other since childhood in Arkansas.
The Rose Law Firm in Arkansas
An employee would later tell the grand jury that he was told to shred documents from the files of Vincent Foster after special prosecutor Robert Fiske had announced he would look into Foster’s death. Fiske was appointed January 20, 1994, and yet at the Rose Law Firm, they’re saying, ‘We want you to shred these documents’, even though an investigation was already commissioned and ready to start. The law prohibits people from intentionally impeding an investigation by destroying evidence they know investigators want. In February, after Fiske served subpoenas on the law firm’s employees. One employee was told to shred a box of file folders marked ‘VWF,’ the firm’s shorthand for Vincent Foster. Wouldn’t Foster’s former colleagues at the firm want to cooperate in every way with an investigation of their good friend’s death? So, why were they shredding these documents?
Special Prosecutor’s Investigation
Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Robert B. Fiske as the special prosecutor to investigate the Whitewater controversy and the death of White House Counsel Vince Foster in January 1994.
Robert Fiske’s 1994 Investigation
Fiske opened a new investigation of Mr. Foster’s death, utilizing FBI resources and experienced pathologists.
Fiske’s report concluded that Foster died by suicide. On the same day that Fiske released this report, President Clinton signed the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act of 1994, effectively abolishing the position of Special Prosecutor and replacing it with the position of Independent Counsel. Under the new law, the Special Division had sole authority to select Independent Counsels.
On August 5, the Special Division, headed by Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, decided to replace Fiske with former Washington, D.C. Circuit Judge Kenneth Star.
Fiske’s Report: The OIC’s Summary of Conclusions
To ensure that all relevant issues were fully considered, carefully analyzed, and properly assessed, the OIC retained several experienced experts and criminal investigators. The experts included Dr. Brian D. Blackbourne, Dr. Henry C. Lee, and Dr. Alan L. Berman.
The investigators included an FBI agent detailed from the FBI-MPD Cold Case Homicide Squad in Washington, D.C., an investigator who also had extensive homicide experience as a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department in D.C. for over 20 years, and two other OIC investigators who had experience as FBI agents investigating the murders of federal officials and other homicides. The OIC legal staff in D.C. and Little Rock, Arkansas, participated in assessing the evidence and examining the analysis and conclusions.
The autopsy report and the reports of the pathologists retained by the OIC and Mr. Fiske’s office demonstrate that the cause of death was a gunshot wound through the back of Mr. Foster’s mouth and out the back of his head. The autopsy photographs depict the wound in the back of the head, and the pictures show the trajectory rod through the wound. The evidence, including the photographic evidence, revealed no other trauma or wounds on Mr. Foster’s body.
The available evidence points clearly to suicide as the manner of death. That conclusion is based on evidence gathered and analyses performed during previous investigations and the additional evidence gathered and analyses performed during the OIC investigation.
On February 24, 1994, Congressman William F. Clinger, Jr., then the Ranking Republican on the Committee on Government Operations of the U.S. House of Representatives, initiated a probe into the death of Vincent Foster.
Clinger’s staff interviewed emergency rescue personnel, law enforcement officials, and others involved in the Park Police investigation. Clinger’s staff accessed the Park Police reports and photographs taken at the scene and the autopsy. Congressman Clinger issued a report on August 12, 1994, concluding that “all available facts lead to the undeniable conclusion that Vincent W. Foster, Jr. took his own life in Fort Marcy Park, Virginia on July 20, 1993.”
U.S. Attorney Miguel Rodriquez’s Death Probe
In August 1994, Miguel Rodriquez began his investigation into Foster’s death. On November 29, 1994, he wrote a 30-page memorandum outlining a plethora of evidence of coverup that he had communicated in a meeting that day with Brett Kavanaugh and others. The memo relates that the police had brought a revolver to the park and placed it in Foster’s hand. Police staged the scene and then photographed it.
In taped telephone interviews, Rodriquez described the puncture wound on the neck. There was no evidence that Foster had committed suicide. He was forced to resign. In his January 17, 1995 letter of resignation to Kenneth Starr, he lists a dozen investigative leads that he was able to uncover during the grand jury proceedings, including that four EMTs saw the neck wound. Park Police and FBI reports inaccurately reflect witness statements and that the Park Police Special Forces Branch, which handles special requests from the White House, was in the park before Foster’s identity was officially known.
Brett Kavanaugh’s Probe
Kenneth Starr appointed Brett Kavanaugh to replace Rodriquez. Kavanaugh immediately dismissed the grand jury and replaced it with another so that the new grand jurors were ignorant of the evidence of crime scene tampering that Rodriquez had so meticulously presented to his grand jurors.
Nine months into taking over the problem, Kavanaugh faced another big problem. On October 22, 1995, Evans-Pritchard reported in the London Telegraph that the FBI had falsified their interview reports of Patrick Knowlton, who happened to be in the park at least an hour after Foster had died. Patrick had reported that Foster’s Gray Honda was not at the park. However, the FBI wrote that he had seen Foster’s car in the park.
Kavanaugh prepared a subpoena summoning Patrick to appear before the Whitewater grand jury. Once the FBI served that subpoena, and continuing into the following day, Patrick was harassed. Patrick contacted his attorney. His attorney called Kavanaugh but didn’t get a return call until Monday. Kavanaugh said he was aware of the harassment and would explore it when Patrick testified.
In August 1997, Patrick’s attorney filed a lawsuit, seeking an order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Starr to append the report recounting Patrick’s harassment, Kavanaugh’s misconduct before the grand jury, the history of the FBI’s various probes, and evidence of murder coverup to his report. The Court granted that motion and ordered that the report be released, including an appendix.
Brett Kavanaugh investigated a Swiss bank account connection, down to examining Mr. Foster’s American Express bills for flights to Switzerland.
Forbes magazine formally queried the White House in April about allegations that the Israelis put money into a Swiss bank account for Foster and that the CIA was investigating him for espionage.
Fragments of the story were picked up by Skolnick in his Conspiracy Nation newsletter and by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the London Sunday Telegraph. Evans-Pritchard wrote that travel records he’d seen show Foster made frequent trips to Switzerland. “Was Foster a U.S. agent at a time when he was ostensibly in private practice as a Little Rock lawyer?” he wrote.
Sources with access to Foster’s American Express receipts, including some during the period cited by Evans-Pritchard, say they show no purchases of airline tickets to Switzerland, nor are there stamps on his passport. The espionage claims are “outrageous and false,” said White House spokesman Mark Fabiani.
The late associate White House Counsel Vincent Foster, who had been a partner of Hubbell in the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock also had a financial interest in Systematics, as evidenced by Foster’s financial disclosure report.
M. Morgan Cherry (4/21/94): A Swiss bank account was also identified in Vincent Foster’s name. He alleges he has traced routing from the Arkansas bank accounts to Safra Bank in New York City, a subsidiary of Republic Bank to a Vincent Foster account in The Cayman Bank, Cayman Islands, and then to the Swiss bank account in Foster’s name. The last known balance in this Swiss account was $550,000-$575,000. The money flow was traced through these accounts over several months totaling $1 million. The account was drained by the CIA on July 1, 1993, causing Foster to realize he was under investigation.
Independent Counsel’s Investigation
Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster and the Whitewater real estate investments of the Clintons.
Due to continuing questions about Vincent Foster’s death, the relationship between Foster’s death and the handling of documents (including Whitewater-related documents) from Foster’s office after his death, and his possible role or involvement in other events under investigation by the OIC, the OIC reviewed and analyzed the evidence gathered during period investigations of Foster’s death and conducted further investigation.
On October 10, 1997, Starr’s report, primarily drafted by Starr’s deputy, Brett Kavanaugh, was released to the public by the Special Division. The complete report is 137 pages long and includes an Appendix added by the Special Division over Starr’s objection. The report agrees with the findings of previous Independent Counsel Robert B. Fiske that Foster committed suicide at Fort Marcy Park in Virginia and that his suicide was caused primarily by undiagnosed and untreated depression.
As CNN explained on February 28, 1997, “The report refutes claims by conservative political organizations that Foster was the victim of a murder plot and coverup.”
Starr would later receive authority to conduct additional investigations, including the firing of White House Travel Office personnel. The White House Travel Office Controversy is referred to as Travelgate.
Vincent Foster’s State of Mind
As to why Foster was overwhelmed at that particular, Dr. Berman explained that Foster was “under an increasing burden of intense external stress, a loss of security, a painful scanning of his environment for negative judgments regarding his performance, a rigid hold of perfectionistic self-demands, a breakdown in and the absence of his usual ability to handle that stress primarily due to the impact of a mental disorder which was undertreated.”
Dr. Berman explained that for certain executives facing difficult circumstances, “in essence, death is preferred to preserve one’s identity. The suicide has an inability to tolerate an altered view of himself; suicide maintains a self-view and escapes having to incorporate discordant implications about the self. These types of suicides are typically complete surprises to others in the available support system.”
In his 6 months in the White House, Vincent Foster was involved in work related to several essential and challenging issues. The issues included, for example, the appointments and vetting of an Attorney General and a Supreme Court Justice, as well as many others, legal issues related to health care, such as medical malpractice reform; litigation related to the Health Care Task Force; the dismissal of White House Travel Office employees and the ensuing fallout from that incident; the Clinton’s tax returns (which involved an issue regarding treatment of the Clinton’s 1992 sale of their interest in Whitewater); the Clintons’ blind trust; liaison with the White House Usher’s Office over issues related to the White House Residence; and issues related to the Freedom of Information Act.
The work proved to be difficult and stressful. In a letter to a friend in Arkansas on March 4, 1993, Foster wrote, “I have never worked so hard for so long in my life. The legal issues are mind-boggling, and the time pressures are immense… The pressure, financial sacrifice, and family disruption are the price of public service at this level. As they say, ‘The wind blows hardest at the top of the mountain.’
Foster confided to another friend that Hillary would bark, “Fix it, Vince,” or “Handle it, Vince!” In one incident weeks prior to his death, Hillary reportedly ridiculed him in front of his peers. “Hillary put him down really, really bad in a pretty good-size meeting,” Investigative Reporter Ronald Kessler wrote in his book, The First Family Detail.
Hillary told Vincent that he didn’t get the picture and he would always be a little hick-town lawyer. It may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Certain other aspects of Foster’s life also came under scrutiny. In May 1993, a controversy arose over the membership of Administration officials in the Country Club of Little Rock, which had no Black members. Foster was a member of that club and resigned from it that month. On a copy of a May 11, 1993 newspaper article in Foster’s office that mentioned the controversy, he wrote, “I wish I had done more.”
Subsequent investigations by special prosecutor Robert Fiske and the Senate Banking Committee concluded that there was no evidence of a homicide. A final investigation, led by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, also concluded that there was no evidence to support the claim that Foster was murdered.
Timeline of Events
July 3: White House management review of the travel office firing released. On May 19, 1993, Clinton had fired seven employees. The White House responded that the firings were done in response to financial improprieties that had been revealed by a brief FBI investigation. Critics contended that the firings had been done to allow friends of the Clintons to take over the travel business, and the involvement of the FBI was unwarranted.
July 15: Senator Robert Dole calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the travel office firings.
July 16: Vince Foster and his wife leave for a weekend in Maryland.
July 16: Louis Freeh offered a job as FBI Director at a White House meeting with Clinton.
July 17: Early morning meeting at Justice Department with FBI Director William Sessions, Attorney General Janet Reno, Nussbaum, and Hubbell tell Sessions to resign or be fired. Sessions refused.
July 18: Foster calls Clinton attorney James Lyons. They agreed to meet on Wednesday, July 21.
July 19: Webster Hubbell meets with Foster.
July 19: President Clinton fires FBI Director William Sessions. Deputy Director Floyd Clarke was named acting director.
July 19: Clinton calls Foster at home and invites him to join him, Hubbell, and Bruce Lindsey for a private White House showing of the movie In the Line of Fire starring Clint Eastwood. Foster declines but agrees to meet President Clinton on Wednesday.
July 20: Louis Freeh was nominated as FBI Director at a Rose Garden ceremony.
July 20: The FBI raids David Hale’s Little Rock, Arkansas office, a government-funded lending company. Hale would later plead guilty to conspiring to defraud the Small Business Administration in looting funds from a dummy business that he had established.
July 20: Foster repeatedly tries to speak with William Kennedy by phone but fails.
Just hours after the search warrant authorizing the raid was signed by a federal magistrate in Little Rock, Vincent Foster drove to Fort Marcy Park.
Was the suspicious death of Vince Foster and the firing of Republican FBI Director William S. Sessions a coincidence?
President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William S. Sessions on July 19, 1993.
Vince Foster was found dead on July 20, 1993.
July 21: A Secret Service Officer observes someone suspiciously carrying documents from the area of Foster’s office.
July 21: Park Police Investigators arrive at the White House but are denied access to Foster’s office or the right to conduct interviews.
July 21: Autopsy conducted on Foster by Deputy Medical Examiner for Northern Virginia.
July 22: White House Counsel Nussbaum searches Foster’s office.
July 22: Williams and counsel aide Thomas Castleton remove Clinton’s papers from Foster’s office and store them in a closet in Clinton’s residential quarters.
July 26: Associate White House Counsel Stephen Neuwirth finds a torn note in Foster’s office briefcase.
July 27: Foster’s wife views the note.
July 27: Reno and Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann arrive at the White House and are informed of the note.
July 27: Park Police notified of the note.
July 29: Park Police interview Foster’s wife for the first time.
August 5: Park Police conclude investigation—rule the death a suicide.
August 9: The FBI concludes its investigation into the torn note found in Foster’s briefcase.
August 10: Justice Department press conference chaired by Heymann. Park Police Chief Robert Langston and FBI Special Agent in Charge for Washington Robert Bryant announce the results of inquiries. Contents of torn note revealed to the press. Officials declined to release the Park Police Report.
August 15: The Washington Post revealed that a Park Police report says that Nussbaum, Williams, and Thomasson conducted the late-night entry into Foster’s office on the night of his death.
August 16: Park Police hand-delivered the Colt revolver found in Foster’s hand to the ballistics laboratory of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This is the first time the gun is tested.
December 20: The Washington Times reported that Clinton aides removed Whitewater papers from Foster’s office on the night of his death.
January 27, 1994: The New York Post report by Christopher Ruddy details doubts of paramedics at the death scene about Foster’s suicide.
January 28: The Wall Street Journal files a lawsuit against the Justice Department for not releasing the Park Police report completed on August 5, 1993.
February 2: William Sessions issued a statement to the New York Post that his firing by President Clint “compromised” the FBI’s role in Foster’s death case.
February 23: Special Counsel Fiske’s investigators begin interviewing the first paramedics at the death scene.
March 5: White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum resigned due to the Whitewater controversy and his position regarding appointing an Independent Counsel.
April 4: The FBI begins a search and excavation for the “missing bullet” at Fort Marcy.
April 14: Webster Hubbell resigns as Associate Attorney General to avoid controversy regarding his work at the DOJ and in hopes of reaching a resolution with the Rose Law Firm. Hubbell pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of tax fraud. He was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment.
May 9: First significant FBI laboratory and forensic reports relating to death case completed. Others were completed by mid-June.
June 30: President Clinton signs re-authorized Independent Counsel law.
June: A team of four independent pathologists reviews Foster’s case for Special Counsel Fiske. Fiske released his report on June 30, concluding that Foster killed himself.
July 29: Senate Banking Committee holds one day of hearings into Foster’s death.
August 5: A three-judge panel created by newly authorized independent counsel statute selects Kenneth W. Starr as Independent Counsel. Fiske’s inquiry ends.
September: Starr hires Mark H. Tuohey III as Washington Deputy, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Miguel Rodriguez, to be the Lead Prosecutor reviewing matters relating to Foster’s death.
October: Prosecutor Russell G. Hardin resigns from Starr’s Little Rock office over matters relating to Webster Hubbell.
December 6: Webster Hubbell pleads guilty to fraud and tax evasion charges and agrees to cooperate with Starr.
December 13: Associate White House Counsel Jane Sherburne writes a White House Task List memo identifying White House concerns over scandals, including Foster’s death.
January 5, 1995: Starr’s office begins grand jury proceedings into Foster’s death.
March: Miguel Rodriguez and his assistant resign over disputes in the Foster case.
April 27: The Western Journalism Center releases a report prepared by two former New York City police homicide experts. The report concluded that murder could not be ruled out, and Foster’s body had been moved to the park.
June: Starr hires defense expert Henry Lee and the San Diego Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Blackbourne to review Foster’s death.
July 6: House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly states there will be hearings on Foster’s death.
July/August: Senate Banking Committee, now chaired by Senator D’Amoto, holds hearings into actions of White House aides involving Foster’s office. Senator D’Amoto publicly states that questions remain on Foster’s death.
September 1: Starr’s deputy Mark Ruohey resigns and joins Washington law firm representing the Rose Law Firm before Starr’s office and Congress.
Mid-September: Starr’s team begins a 2-month FBI search for the “missing bullet.”
October 22: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports in the London Sunday Telegraph that Fort Marcy witness Patrick Knowlton claims the FBI falsified his testimony in their report.
October 25, 1995: A press conference was held announcing the findings of three handwriting experts that the torn note was a forgery.
At the time of his death, Linda Tripp was Foster’s Executive Assistant who even served him his last meal. After Foster’s death, Tripp was shuffled around the White House until she was given a job in the Public Affairs Office of the Pentagon with a $20,000 raise.
Books & Reports Available on Amazon
Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, Jr by the Office of Independent Counsel by Kenneth Starr (1997)
Vincent Foster FBI Files. Vincent Foster (1945-1993), a prominent lawyer from Arkansas, was the Deputy White House Counsel to President Clinton from 1991 to 1993. Depressed by critical media comments, Foster took his own life on July 20, 1993, at Fort Marcy Park in Virginia. U.S. Park Police led the investigation into Foster’s death. This release details FBI assistance in the investigation, including information concerning a letter written by Foster, handwritten case notes, and the medical examiner’s report that ruled his death a suicide.
A Special Report on Vincent Foster’s Death and His Involvement with the Clintons’ Whitewater Affairs by Alexander B. Magnus (1995)
Who Murdered Vince Foster? By James Dale Davidson (1996)
The Strange Death of Vincent Foster by Christopher Ruddy (1997). Revealing materials that suggest a flawed FBI investigation and possible coverup, a journalist chronicles the official look into the death of the White House advisor who died in 1993 and indicates that a new criminal investigation is required.
A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm by Dan E. Moldea (1998)
A Washington Tragedy: Bill & Hillary Clinton and the Suicide of Vincent Foster by Dan E. Moldea (2015). Veteran true-crime reporter and bestselling author Dan Moldea investigates all the details surrounding the death of Vincent Foster. Was Vincent Foster murdered? What did he know? Was there a coverup? What was the real motive behind Foster’s death?
30 Years Later, Vincent Foster’s Death Remains a Mystery
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