By Carl Limbacher

SEE Failure of the Public Trust

Chris Ruddy's cartoon

Unsolved Mystery Hampers All Starr's Probes

Five summers ago this week the body of Vincent Walker Foster, Jr. was discovered by an antique cannon in an out of the way Virginia park. Two independent counsels, two congressional probes and one federal police investigation have determined he died by his own hand. Still, in national polls taken in 1995 and 1997, the American people by overwhelming margins say they do not believe Foster died as officials say. Yet even with this popular mandate, no investigator was willing to act on serious evidence of a White House cover-up of Foster's death.

Meanwhile Ken Starr, the last official to sign off on the suicide verdict, nears the fourth anniversary of his own appointment as chief investigator of the Clinton crime wave in hot pursuit of presidential perjury and obstruction in the Monica Lewinsky case. In fact, if Paula Jones' civil suit hadn't criminalized Monica-gate, Ken Starr would presumably be left with nothing on his plate.

How is it that Starr's four year investigation has been reduced to probing allegations made on tape by a ditzy 24-year-old White House intern, while his probes of Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate have come up empty? It's really no mystery. For once Ken Starr decided to go south on Fostergate, he closed the door on each of these other investigations.

The Clinton connection in Travelgate was largely Hillary's. It was she, as multiple memos by junior and senior White House aides make clear, who was the driving force behind the firing of Billy Dale and his colleagues in the White House Travel Office. One of those memos, by White House personnel director (and longtime F.O.B.) David Watkins, clearly describes the pressure brought to bear by Mrs. Clinton to "get our people in those slots." It was Watkins and Foster who struggled to implement Hillary's orders, knowing that if they did not there would be, in Watkins' words, "hell to pay." They also no doubt knew that the charge that Billy Dale had embezzled Travel Office money for his personal use was ridiculous. But Mrs. Clinton, persuaded by Harry Thomason that Dale & co. needed to go, was unrelenting.

It was Foster who felt the pressure most. Mainstream media accounts of Travelgate avoided well-sourced allegations that Foster and the first lady had been romantically involved. But as Peter Boyer noted in The New Yorker two years ago, Hillary, once installed in the White House, adopted an imperial attitude towards her new deputy White House counsel. Even the jailed Webb Hubbell, who was prepared to "roll over one more time" to protect Mrs. Clinton, noted the change in tone. "Fix it, Vince," Hillary would bark at Foster, according to Hubbell's own memoir.

And so any truthful accounting of Travelgate, including Mrs. Clinton perjured denial of her role in the firings, would be impossible without revealing her treatment of Foster. Indeed, most of Foster's so-called suicide note reads like an apologia for Travelgate, including the prescient line: "The public will never believe the innocence of the Clintons and their loyal staff." Foster anticipated that a thorough Travelgate investigation would expose Hillary's treachery. And Starr knows that any Travelgate prosecution of Hillary Clinton would reveal that pressure from the first lady deepened the depression that Starr says caused Foster to take his own life. It was, as Foster himself once said of Whitewater, "a can of worms we should not open."

Starr's Whitewater probe has suffered the same fate. Few remember now that it was Foster's death in July 1993, rather than Jeff Gerth's trailblazing March 1992 Whitewater expose in the New York Times, that lit the independent counsel fuse. Indeed, throughout the '92 presidential campaign Whitewater never became an issue. But less than a month after the Washington Times Dec.'93 revelation that Whitewater documents had been removed from Foster's office the night he died, Janet Reno was compelled to make the appointment. And even before that bombshell (8/12/93, less than a month after Foster's death) The New York Times had editorialized about issues raised by Foster's suicide note, saying: "Ideally, an independent counsel wholly free from executive branch control needs to be appointed." The Times also called for the removal of Bernard Nussbaum, the Clinton counsel who mysteriously discovered that note after a second search of Foster's briefcase.

By the time the Foster case had reached Ken Starr in August of '94, his death had been ruled a straightforward suicide by the Park Police, Robert Fiske and the Senate Whitewater Committee. Yet just days after he replaced Fiske, Starr promised to make his own "independent evaluation" as to how Foster died. The following January, Starr began calling Foster death witnesses to his Washington grand jury. But two months later, Starr's lead Foster prosecutor, Miquel Rodriquez, resigned. Reportedly Rodriquez felt Democrat higher-ups in Starr's Washington office were impeding his efforts to get at the truth.

Ken Starr was faced with a crucial decision. Rodriquez' departure should have caused a major shake-up inside the investigation. But the press pretended not to notice what had happened. And instead of putting his Washington investigation right, Starr turned his attention to ancient and remote crimes in Little Rock. Starr dawdled another two-plus years before officially acknowledging that his Foster death investigation had come up empty.

Absent Vince Foster, Whitewater withered on the vine. Yes, there were convictions of the Clintons' Whitewater business partners, the McDougals. Clinton's successor, Gov. Tucker, was found guilty as well. But there was abundant evidence that the president had perjured himself about the same fraudulent loan that had put Susan McDougal behind bars. And Mrs. Clinton had confessed to the RTC that she had shredded Castle Grande documents one jump ahead of the sheriff. Nevertheless, Starr finally closed his Little Rock grand jury in May of this year without even presenting an indictment of either Clinton for the grand jurors to rule on. Undoubtedly the independent counsel believed 10 year old crimes in Arkansas were too long ago and too far away to warrant toppling a sitting president.

Meanwhile in Washington, stunning new evidence had emerged in the Foster case that could have been politically lethal - had the scent been followed. Three independent handwriting experts determined that Foster's suicide note, which was discovered sans fingerprints, was a forgery. A last gasp exhaustive search of the park where Foster's body was found failed to turn up the missing bullet -- the only forensic evidence that would have linked his death to the scene. A previously unknown White House meeting featuring several major Foster case witnesses was revealed to have taken place at a key point during Robert Fiske's Foster probe. But the gathering of Bill Clinton, Webb Hubbell, Michael Cardozo, Marsha Scott, Shelia Foster-Anthony and Foster's widow Lisa apparently prompted little investigative interest, even though the meeting took place on May 7, 1994. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Washington Post - 5/3/97) Just two days later the widow Foster was scheduled to be questioned for the first time by Fiske. In fact, all the participants had spent time with Foster during his final days. And all were key to floating the depression alibi, except Lisa - who hadn't yet remembered how sick her husband had been. The press brushed off this "getting our stories straight" session as an innocent reunion of old Arkansas friends, even though Cardozo wasn't from Arkansas.

Starr is said to be investigating the removal of documents from Foster's office still. But his Whitewater grand jury in Washington disbanded last year without results. Even Al D'Amato's Foster-phobic Senate Whitewater Committee issued criminal referrals for Susan Thomases, Webster Hubbell and Harold Ickes in 1996. Thomases and Hubbell had feigned extensive memory lapses when questioned on Foster. Ickes is said to have managed White House Foster damage control. None was charged by Starr's Washington grand jury.

Without Vince Foster, Whitewater just didn't have a plotline. And by failing to act on potential crimes related to the conduct of those who helped cover up the circumstances of his death, Starr's Whitewater case is nothing more than weak tea. Moreover, Starr's own Foster-phobia may be exactly why Filegater Craig Livingstone remains a free man today.

Who can forget the initial devastating impact of news that the White House security chief had collected over 900 confidential FBI files on Bill Clinton's political opponents. The story even had former CBS newsman Daniel Shorr, pride of the Nixon enemies list, opining against Livingstone's transgression from the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Bill Clinger's Travelgate Committee immediately turned their sights on the breathtaking new scandal. Even notorious committee stonewaller Tom "Waldheim" Lantos couldn't help suggesting that Livingstone should walk the plank, telling the witness in his most ominous Transylvanian accent that: "At least Admiral Boorda had the decency to commit suicide." Livingstone's goose, it seemed, was cooked for sure.

But that was then, this is now. Turns out, it's a good thing Livingstone didn't take Lantos' advice, since the last two years don't seem to have been particularly unkind to Filegate's fall guy. At last word Livingstone was doing just fine, thank you -- working for a Clinton contributor out in the Golden State. His super-expensive lawyer, Randall Turk, informed the Boston Globe months ago that Starr's office is no longer interested in his client. It looks like Livingstone has beat the rap.

How can this be? If ever there was someone ripe for indictment for a whole host of crimes, including violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, it would seem to be Craig Livingstone. Could it be that Livingstone's deep involvement in the Foster case is exactly what's keeping him out of the jug?

It was Livingstone, recall, who was dispatched to the morgue along with Associate White House Counsel Bill Kennedy to I.D. Foster's body. Unresolved questions about the discovery of Foster's car keys, which couldn't be found at the death scene, still linger. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Livingstone may have planted them in one of Foster's pants pockets during the morgue visit. The keys were retrieved later by Park Police who had already searched Foster's pockets at the scene.

Livingstone had also been spotted at the White House the next morning by Secret Service agent Bruce Abbott, who claims he saw the security chief and an unidentified partner removing a box of files and a briefcase from an area near Foster's office. Livingstone denied this, but later made inquiries as to the identity of the agent who spilled the beans.

If the truth about Foster's death differs from the conclusion reached by Starr in any substantial way, Craig Livingstone is in a position to expose it. Already under vicious assault from the left, Starr needs his supporters on the right just to survive. Would they still rally round if a key Clinton witness came forward claiming that Starr went into the tank on the Foster case? It's perhaps because Livingstone has this kind of leverage over the man who once appeared certain to indict him, that no such indictment is anywhere in sight.

Strange as it seems, the strange death of Vincent Foster entangles each area of Starr's probe -- and has apparently hamstrung his investigation in ways that reduce it to irrelevance. Five years later, Ken Starr can thank his lucky stars that Monica Lewinsky likely knows nothing about the way Vince Foster died.

Published in the July 20, 1998 issue of The Washington Weekly
Copyright 1998 The Washington Weekly
Reposting permitted with this message intact.


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