Vince FosterIf you're interested in the death of Vince Foster, you're in luck. More has probably been written on the subject than on Watergate, the Kennedy Assassinations and the Moon Landing combined.
If you're interested in the life of Vince Foster, well, too bad.
You'd think that a man must have had a really distinguished and important life to be worth so much ink. You'd think that he must have swayed kingdoms, cured cancer, invented a perpetual motion machine or discovered the Holy Grail. But no.
Vince Foster was an Arkansas lawyer, a description which once would have invoked visions of Mayberry and pies, an imputation of a happy, overstuffed, slow-paced life in the sticks as richly and satisfactorily lived as it would be quickly forgotten. But the phrase "Arkansas lawyer" took a sharp turn to the dark side during the 1990s, and Foster was dragged along with it.
Foster was born in Hope, Ark., the same town as Bill Clinton. Bill and Hillary were good friends with Foster, who like Hillary was a partner at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. One of a small army of disciples who followed the Clintons from Arkansas to Washington, D.C., in 1992, Foster settled in as deputy White House Counsel, a relatively low-level position in which he frequently interfaced with Hillary Clinton.
Early in 1993, the first of what would be many Clinton administration scandals broke loose — the so-called Travelgate scandal.
Travelgate can be summed up thusly: A bunch of travel staffers were fired by the White House on the pretext of wrongdoing, at the urging of Clinton crony Harry Thomason. Did they get screwed? Probably, yes. Did they do anything wrong? Debatable, but probably not. Was it a pointy-haired, Dilbertesque act of stupidity? Sure. Was it a Constitutional Crisis? No. Was it a threat to National Security? No. Was it a crime? Ehhhh.
Little knowing what treasures of tabloid journalism the next eight years would hold, the media jumped all over Travelgate, particularly the Wall Street Journal, which ran a scathing editorial about the specific evils of Vince Foster. Foster had been appointed by Hillary Clinton to "take care of" the alleged shenanigans of the Travel Office workers. As deputy White House counsel, he had supervised the "investigation" of the employees and met with the FBI, which had also investigated the workers at the behest of the White House (the FBI found no wrongdoing).
An investigation of the Travel office investigation ensued, and Foster began obsessively taking notes on the affair, in which his concern about protecting Hillary was clear, but any actual wrongdoing in the incident was not. After the Wall Street Journal crucifixion, Foster began a short journey into a deep depression, by every account.
On July 20, 1993, Vincent Foster committed suicide by shooting himself through the back of the head. In a scribbled note, apparently a farewell note, discovered a week after his death, he observed that in Washington, D.C., "ruining people is considered sport."
The sport wouldn't die with the victim. In death, Vince Foster became something he likely couldn't have possibly imagined in life: A hero and martyr to the Far Right.
Foster had been involved in various Clinton legal matters, including Whitewater, a shady and unprofitable land deal that persisted as a topic of interest among those who found Willie a little too slick. The questions began almost immediately, and were deepened when the White House allegedly tried to restrict access to Foster's files as the investigation into his death began. By January 1994, the Whitewater deal (and a host of semi-related scandals) became the subject of an independent counsel investigation.
The Foster "murder or suicide" investigation revolved around a variety of claims, made by journalists in and out of the mainstream, but mostly out. The claims can generally be divided into two major categories for useful contemplation. Category one is outright lies, category two is gross distortions. First, the lies:
Well, his name is Ken Starr. All of the above points were derived from the report prepared by Independent Counsel Ken Starr during his $39.2 million, four and half year investigation of the Clinton administration's alleged wrongdoings. Starr's investigation of the Foster allegations followed a previous special counsel investigation covering Whitewater and the Foster allegation, at a cost of $6 million, and two separate law enforcement investigations, all of which came to the same conclusion: Vincent Foster committed suicide.
Lest we forget, Starr doggedly pursued every lead that came his way, finally determining to recommend that Congress IMPEACH THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR LYING ABOUT BLOW JOBS. If anyone was motivated to nail Clinton to the wall for a shady murder, it was Ken Starr.
Most of the above allegations of foul play in the Foster death originated with Christopher Ruddy, a reporter for a small-town newspaper in Pennsylvania owned by billionaire arch-conservative Richard Mellon Scaife, and the Western Journalism Center, a non-profit institution supporting "independent journalism," which is primarily funded by Scaife.
Some of the charges, including some not listed here, originated with a prosecutor named Miquel Rodriguez, who worked for Starr briefly then resigned, moving on to be the subject of many interviews by Ruddy.
The Foster allegations were further amplified in the infamous video, "The Clinton Chronicles," which portrayed Clinton as a rampaging monster just short of Vlad the Impaler, gleefully trafficking in cocaine and racking up a body count. The video was produced by Jerry Falwell, through an organization called "Citizens for Honest Government," which (according to Salon Magazine) was founded by Christopher Ruddy and a partner with an opening bank balance of $3 million.
According to Salon and other investigators, "Citizens for Honest Government" also made large payments to various Arkansas residents making accusations about Clinton, including state troopers and former state employees.
Ruddy published a follow-up book on his investigation, called The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, a book which even the right-wing nuts at American Spectator Magazine conceded sounded like it had been written by a "right-wing nut."
Are you starting to see a pattern here?
None of this makes Vincent Foster any less dead, of course. At the least, Foster was driven into an untenable professional position and pressured by longtime friends who ignored his spiral into depression. Which isn't a good thing.
Persistent rumors have abounded that Hillary Clinton was having an affair with Foster. It's one of the more reasonable claims made about the case, although the credibility of those rumors is somewhat lessened by the fact that the people making the charge usually follow a few minutes later with a claim that Hillary was a lesbian.
There's no rock-solid evidence of an affair except for the numerous hearsay rumors, although it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility, given what we know about the Clintons' marriage. The Fosters' marriage was troubled at the time of his death, a fact that Ken Starr left out of his report in a moment of uncharacteristic restraint.
The White House did get inappropriately political immediately following the death, but if that rose to the level of obstruction of justice, Ken Starr couldn't figure it out. According to several reports in non-Scaife media outlets, the White House rifled Foster's papers after his death, looking for potentially embarrassing material.
A Republican Senate committee found "evidence to suggest" that the White House had been involved in covering up Whitewater and/or Rose Law Firm materials in Foster's office, and that some people in the White House may have impeded the investigation of Foster's death, but none of this evidence was enough to lead to criminal charges. A Democratic response, predictably, found the Republican charges to be spurious. Given the overall context, you have to think it's quite likely there was some funny business regarding the papers.
Foster must be rolling in his grave at his status as the iconic martyr of the Clinton administration, hero to the most extreme fringes of the far right wing.
Who knows what afterlife berth Foster may have arrived in — but if he has Internet access, it's probably Hell, an eternity of ego-surfing to read statements like "Few of us knew what a decent, stable, conscientious and devoted family man Vincent Foster was" — a tribute penned by Christopher Ruddy who immediately followed with "which makes the depression theory (of his suicide) even more preposterous."
Or any of the tens of thousands of pages covering similar ground, only with even less sensitivity and even less grounding in reality: