Hitherto, this second congressional investigation of the notorious Arkansas financial dealings of Bill and Hillary Clinton has been primarily an exercise in tedium and poor taste - raking over yet again the death of Mr Foster, a close friend of the presidential couple, on 20 July, 1993, and the way in which a grief-stricken White House staff responded.
Now genuine confrontation has arrived, between Henry O'Neill, a secret serviceman on duty that night, and Maggie Williams, the powerful chief of staff of Mrs Clinton. According to Mr O'Neill, he saw Ms Williams leaving Mr Foster's office with two bundles of folders. Equally flatly, Ms Williams denied doing any such thing, and produced the results of a lie detector test conducted by her lawyers to prove it. But she did admit she went to the White House that night after being called twice by Mrs Clinton.
With both parties unshakeable, the dispute is unlikely to be resolved. But the O'Neill testimony is central to the Republican thesis that White House aides impeded a thorough search of the office as part of a cover-up reaching perhaps as high as the First Lady herself, to prevent embarrassing Whitewater documents in Mr Foster's possession from falling into the wrong hands.
The White House has already released what it says are the files kept by Mr Foster on the Clintons' investment in the ill-starred real estate venture in north central Arkansas in the late 1970s. Apart from data suggesting that the Clintons' Whitewater losses were less than the $62,000 originally claimed, they seem innocuous enough. But with the allegations against Ms Williams, the Republicans finally have grist for their conspiracy mill.
Further fuel was provided by new confusion surrounding the torn-up suicide note left by Mr Foster, which blamed Washington's pressures and injustices for his decision to take his life.
White House officials have all along insisted the note was not discovered until six days after his death, whereupon it was immediately made public. But a lawyer for the Foster family, Michael Spafford, testified yesterday that scraps of the note came to light at a meeting on 22 July in Mr Foster's office, when police and Justice Department officials were searching for clues to why Mr Foster might have killed himself.
But, said Mr Spafford, the scraps were ignored by Bernard Nussbaum, the then White House counsel, who was in the room deciding which documents the police could be permitted to look at. Alfonse D'Amato, the New York Republican and a fierce critic of the Clintons who is chairing the hearings, described the discrepancy as "deeply troubling".Reuse content