The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No, Donald Trump, there’s nothing ‘fishy’ about Vince Foster’s suicide

(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump “called theories of possible foul play ‘very serious’ and the circumstances of [Vince] Foster’s death ‘very fishy.’”

— “Trump escalates attack on Bill Clinton,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2016

Donald Trump appears intent on dredging up every last bit of every Clinton controversy, including the 1993 death of the Clintons’ close personal friend, White House deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr.

Foster “had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump told The Washington Post. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.” The presumptive GOP presidential nominee said, “I don’t know enough to really discuss it” but “I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder.”

Yes, there is a fringe minority of people who will believe in just about every conspiracy theory. There are hacks who believe that Foster died in the White House and that his body was moved. There was even a member of Congress who fired bullets into a cantaloupe (or was it a watermelon?) in an effort to prove that Foster was killed.

But there were also five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources.

Yes, the bullet was never found. (Foster died in a wooded park.) Yes, the Clinton White House was sometimes slow to release information or took steps that at times raised suspicions, such as removing from Foster’s office files concerning an Arkansas real estate deal. But that was all examined, dissected, discussed, investigated two decades ago — and found to be not material. The fifth probe lasted three years — and still found nothing.

Let’s take Trump at his word, that he doesn’t know enough about the issue to discuss it. Here’s a guide to the five investigations and their findings. We trust that once he reads this summary, he will agree that the Foster matter should no longer be considered campaign fodder.

Death of Vince Foster

Foster was a childhood friend of Bill Clinton’s and a partner of Hillary Clinton’s at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock who joined the White House staff when Clinton became president. He was found dead, in Fort Marcy Park in Virginia, six months into the administration, a few hours after having left his White House office at 1 p.m. He had a gunshot wound in his head and an 80-year-old gun in one of his hands.

Foster had been involved in several controversies, such as failed nominations for attorney general and the firing of the travel office staff so business could be steered to the president’s allies. At the time of his death, Foster was being treated for depression. In his briefcase was found a note, torn into 27 pieces, which said in part: “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.”

1993 Park Police investigation

Because of the location of the body, the U.S. Park Police led the investigation, assisted by the FBI. The results of the investigation were announced Aug. 10, 1993:

“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.”

1994 Fisk investigation

After the White House confirmed that documents related to the Whitewater Development Corp., a failed real estate investment by the Clintons, had been in Foster’s office at the time of his death, public pressure led Bill Clinton to appoint an independent counsel. On Jan. 20, 1994, Robert B. Fiske Jr. took over the Justice Department investigation into the Whitewater matter. He opened a new investigation of Foster’s death, convening a panel of distinguished pathologists, and relying on the investigative prowess of seven experienced FBI agents.

On June 30, 1994, Fiske issued a report concluding: “On the afternoon of 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. …The evidence overwhelmingly supports this conclusion, and there is no evidence to the contrary.”

1994 Clinger report

Rep. William F. Clinger Jr. (Pa.), then the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Government Operations, reached an agreement with Fiske that allowed for a review of official reports from the Park Police and related autopsy and ballistic reports. He issued a report on Aug. 12, 1994, that concluded 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.”

1995 Senate Banking Committee report

The Senate Banking Committee (led by Democrats) conducted an investigation into the Park Police probe. On Jan. 3, 1995, the committee issued a report stating that “the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion of the Park Police that on July 20, 1993, Mr. Foster died in Fort Marcy Park from a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the upper palate of his mouth.” Republicans on the committee also issued a statement, saying, “We agree with the majority’s conclusion that on July 20, 1993 Vincent Foster took his own life in Fort Marcy Park.”

(A special Senate committee to investigate Whitewater, formed after Republicans took control of Congress, in 1996 issued a report highly critical of the handling of documents in Foster’s office after his death.)

The Starr investigation (1997)

On Aug. 5, 1994, Kenneth W. Starr was named the independent counsel in the Whitewater matter. He launched a fifth investigation, more comprehensive than the first four, and his report was not issued until Oct. 10, 1997. The probe uncovered new evidence, all of which pointed to the same conclusion as the four previous probes. Starr also consulted with leading forensic experts, who reviewed the materials, with one medical doctor declaring that “to a 100 percent degree of medical certainty, the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide.”

Starr vigorously tried to tackle just about every conspiracy theory about the case. He definitively established that Foster owned the 80-year-old gun found in his hand. Investigators discovered that an oven mitt found in the glove compartment of Foster’s car came from his kitchen — and traces of lead from the gun found in his hand were also found in the mitt (which he used to transport the gun) and in his pants pocket (which he used to carry the gun in the park).

Most of the many carpet fibers found on Foster’s clothing came from his home, office and his car, demonstrating that he had not been wrapped in a carpet and taken to the park, as some had claimed. Pathologists concluded that Foster was alive at the time the shot was fired and that he “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 (the space between the cylinder and the barrel).” Moreover, blood splatters further confirmed that the body had not been moved.

The report also noted that Foster’s troubled state of mind pointed to a suicide. As the report put it: “Mr. Foster told his sister four days before his death that he was depressed; he cried at dinner with his wife four days before his death; he told his mother a day or two before his death that he was unhappy because work was ‘a grind’; he was consulting attorneys for legal advice the week before his death; he told several people he was considering resignation; he wrote a note that he ‘was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.’ The day before his death, he contacted a physician and indicated that he was under stress.”

The last words of the report were: “In sum, based on all of the available evidence, which is considerable, the OIC [Office of Independent Counsel] agrees with the conclusion reached by every official entity that has examined the issue: Mr. Foster committed suicide by gunshot in Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993.”

The Pinocchio Test

There is nothing fishy or mysterious about Foster’s tragic suicide. Anyone suggesting otherwise earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Check out our 2016 candidates fact-check page

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter