Starr Probe Reaffirms Foster Killed Himself
By Susan Schmidt
The report concludes that Foster was severely depressed about his work at the White House, took a revolver from a closet in his home, placed it in an oven mitt, and on the afternoon of July 20, 1993, drove to a Virginia park and shot himself. And it contains new forensic details that refute the conspiracy theories that have long surrounded his death that Foster was a victim of foul play, or that his body was moved to Fort Marcy Park after his death at another location, perhaps the White House.
As part of its investigation, Starr's office consulted renowed medical and forensic experts, including Henry C. Lee, a crime scene expert who determined that the condition of the body and other physical evidence unequivocably demonstrate that Foster shot himself while seated on a grassy rise in the park, and Alan L. Berman, an expert in the field on suicide, who found that "to a 100 percent degree of medical certainty, the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide."
The new evidence in the report includes:
Statements from Foster's children more definitively establishing his ownership of the gun found in his hand.
An oven mitt from the Foster family kitchen that was found in the glove compartment of Foster's car. Lee found traces of lead from the gun found in Foster's hand in both the mitt and Foster's front pants pocket. Lee found gunshot residue on both hands.
Most of the many carpet fibers found on Foster's clothing came from his home, office and his car. Some have theorized he died elsewhere, was wrapped in a carpet and brought to the park.
Spatters of blood on Foster's face, hands and shirt, with no sign of smudging that would have occurred had the body been wrapped and moved.
The new report is the fourth and most definitive investigation into Foster's death. Starr's predecessor, special counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr., concluded in a June 1994 report that a depressed Foster had taken his own life. Bipartisan findings by two congressional panels concluded the same thing.
Foster's death became part of a broad investigation of President and Hillary Rodham Clinton's financial dealings in Arkansas when Whitewater records were discovered to have been in his office six months after his death.
The report does not attempt to set forth all the reasons Foster might have decided to take his life, but it discusses evidence of depression consistent with a suicidal state.
Foster was working on legal matters he found stressful and that had resulted in public criticism of him and others in the White House. Among the issues the report concludes were extremely stressful to Foster were his office's flawed vetting of several controversial administration nominees, the firing of White House travel office employees, litigation related to a White House task force on health care and the handling of the Clintons' tax returns, including the sale of their interest in the Whitewater real estate investment.
On that point it differed from the Fiske report, which found no evidence Whitewater contributed to Foster's anxiety. However, after the Fiske report was released, the White House released Foster's own handwritten notes in which he fretted that the Whitewater investment was a legal "can of worms."
Starr's report, citing Berman's findings, said Foster was "a controlled, private, perfectionistic character whose public persona as a man of integrity, honesty and unimpeachable reputation was of utmost importance." It said Foster was clinically depressed, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety over mistakes "real or perceived" in his handling of legal issues in the counsel's office.
"Mr. Foster," said the report, "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 report did not address questions about what Foster knew at the time of his death about budding investigations that would soon become a major headache for the White House and the Clintons.
White House spokesman Michael McCurry said the report contained "nothing surprising," and added: "We certainly hope and pray that it brings a very sad chapter in the history of this White House to a conclusion, as it should and as it should have long ago."
A virtual cottage industry of conspiracy theorists has continually challenged findings of previous investigations. Starr's office was determined to run down each of those theories and try to put them to rest.
Foster's sister, Sheila Foster Anthony, issued a statement agreeing with Starr's conclusions but castigating him for taking so long to reach them and for allowing "ridiculous conspiracy theories proffered by those with a profit or political motive" to flourish. "In my view, it was unconscionable for Mr. Starr for so long to allow the American people to entertain any thought that the President of the United States somehow had complicity in Vince's death," she said."
Deputy independent counsel Jack Bennett said in response: "The report that was made public today reflects the culmination of a careful and exacting investigative process. The report should answer all reasonable questions about whether and where Mr. Foster committed suicide."
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