The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yes, there actually are people who believe the Clintons killed Vince Foster

Bill and Hillary Clinton in Honolulu on July 11, 1993. White House deputy counsel Vince Foster died nine days later. (Marcy Nighswander/AP)

The latest thing Donald Trump is talking about not talking about is the 1993 death of White House attorney Vince Foster, which was ruled a suicide by multiple investigations but which "people" — according to Trump — believe was a murder orchestrated by the Clintons. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told The Washington Post's Jose DelReal and Robert Costa that Foster's death was "very fishy."

"I don't bring it up because I don't know enough to really discuss it," Trump said while bringing it up. "I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it’s fair."

Trump escalates attack on Bill Clinton

Riiight. Trump isn't talking about Vince Foster. He's just casually mentioning that a bunch of other people think his likely general election opponent and her husband had a guy killed. That's all.

So who are these people? The National Enquirer. Obviously. If you didn't guess that one, then you must have forgotten about that time Trump cited the tabloid's story linking Ted Cruz's father to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and the time a Trump surrogate used an Enquirer article to accuse a CNN commentator — among others — of sleeping with Cruz.

The Enquirer claimed last spring that Hillary Clinton had an affair with Foster, Bill Clinton's boyhood friend and deputy counsel. The story suggests the Clintons either hired a hit man to kill Foster or that Hillary drove him to suicide. One way or the other,  the story claims that Foster died of a gunshot in his White House office, was wrapped in a multi-colored shag carpet — details really bring the tale to life — and was dumped on Hillary's orders in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., where his body was actually found.

But Vince Foster conspiracy theories are not confined to the supermarket checkout aisle. They have been festering in online conservative fever swamps since the early days of the Internet and remain the subject of "exclusive" reports by far-right, far-out sites such as World Net Daily, Accuracy in Media and Infowars. Rush Limbaugh has even occasionally trafficked in Foster rumors on his radio show.

For a certain audience, this stuff is gospel. A February poll of WND readers asked whether they think Foster committed suicide; 90 percent of the 891 respondents said no, and 59 percent said the reason for their skepticism is that "many people associated with the Clintons have died under suspicious circumstances."

This is the crowd Trump is courting when he says Foster's death was "very fishy." And these are the places where he gets his material.

For the record, Foster — a kindergarten classmate of Bill Clinton's in Hope, Ark. — was discovered by U.S. Park Police on July 20, 1993, with a revolver in his hand, "slumped against a Civil War-era cannon," according to the Associated Press, which described the scene. Bill Clinton was on "Larry King Live" when police called the White House; the president cut his appearance short, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Foster's colleagues soon found in his office a torn-up note, in which the 48-year-old lawyer lamented that he "was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington."

The White House's handling of the note quickly sparked controversy. Press secretary Dee Dee Myers acknowledged Foster's colleagues had withheld the note from police for a day; she said they wanted to share it with Foster's family before turning it over. The media had other questions, too. Why hadn't the president — or anyone else in the White House — known that Foster was so despondent? Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory described the dynamic on Aug. 8, 1993.

The president tried to shield his friend from corrosive gossip. "No one can ever know why this happened," he said with finality the morning after.
The statement had the effect of an electric prod on the press. They leapt to the conclusion that Clinton was covering up. They assumed that Clinton felt that the suicide might be a judgment on him, on the prospects of the administration, and was trying to ward off investigation. ...
The conflict between reporters digging for the meaning of the suicide of a public man and a staff trying to protect the privacy of a dead friend built up. On July 29, 138 questions about the case were asked at a White House press briefing.

After a three-week investigation, police confirmed their original belief that Foster had committed suicide. In 1994, an investigation led by Whitewater special counsel Robert Fiske concluded the same. And in 1997, a third investigation led by Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr also ruled Foster's death a suicide.

But rumors persisted, aided by these new things called Internet chat rooms. The Dallas Morning News chronicled the obsession of "Vince Foster conspiracy buffs" in 1999.

Some people call them kooks. That doesn't bother Susan Pejovich, Mike McCullough and Hugh Sprunt. They have busy lives, professional and personal. But their spare time is devoted to an unusual avocation: trying to uncover the cracks in the public accounts of former White House counsel Vincent Foster's death.
Move over, Kennedy assassination aficionados. Here come the Vince Foster conspiracy buffs. ...
[Pejovich] got on the internet and began reading and chatting in a Whitewater group. Eventually, those seriously interested in the Foster case split off into a separate online group. Friendships developed. Some remain only online friends, with no known hometowns. But when Pejovich discovered McCullough and Sprunt lived in the Dallas area, the local Foster Non-Believers Chapter was born.

In the fragmented, fringe-affirming news environment of 2016, Foster "truthers" need not silo themselves in online conversation threads. They can feed their suspicions on any number of sites — the same places where the GOP standard-bearer also apparently gets his information.