Death of White House lawyer still a mystery

FEDERAL investigators turned yesterday to the grieving family of deputy White House legal advisor, Vincent Foster, in search of an explanation for his death by apparent suicide in a suburban Washington park early last week.

Mr Foster was buried on Friday in an emotional ceremony in Hope, Arkansas, attended by his boyhood friend President Bill Clinton and scores of other national and state government dignatories. But it remains a mystery why Mr Foster, who was 48, would have taken his own life.

At a service in the St Andrew's Cathedral in Hope, President Clinton offered a eulogy to his lifelong friend, characterising him as a 'complicated person', whose complexity made him 'more interesting, but no less admirable'.

Concluding his address, the President cited lyrics from the 1960s rock singer, Leon Russell: 'I love you in a place that has no space or time. I love you for my life. You are a friend of mine.' And he added: 'Go well, my friend, and Godspeed.'

While investigators of the Park Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have confirmed that the circumstances of the death appear to be 'consistent with suicide', no motive has been established, nor is there any clear picture of Mr Foster's movements in his final hours. The possibility that he was murdered has not been publicly ruled out.

The investigators said they had deferred to the grief of Mr Foster's family and friends by delaying detailed interviews with them until after the funeral. In particular, they are anxious to establish the ownership of the antique handgun lying close to the body.

Mr Foster was discovered near his car early on Tuesday evening in a park on the outskirts of the capital. He had been killed by a bullet fired into the mouth. He was last seen alive by colleagues in the White House about five hours earlier.

The only explanation that Mr Foster's friends and relatives could come up with was that he had been depressed about the fortunes of the Clinton administration, and in particular about press criticism of his role in the bungled sacking in May of the White House travel staff.

Some newspapers, led by the Wall Street Journal, have also questioned the dominant presence in the administration's legal staff of friends and former colleagues from Hillary Clinton's Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. The so-called 'four-partner' team included Mr Foster, Associate Attorney-General Webster Hubbell, Associate White House Counsel William Kennedy and Mrs Clinton herself. For the first time, the White House press spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, has acknowledged that Mr Foster had appeared to be withdrawn before his death. 'People had noticed he was down and were worried about him,' she commented.

The Washington Times yesterday quoted a 'family source' as suggesting that Mr Foster's calm exterior over recent weeks had in fact been a 'porcelain shell', concealing a person torn apart by self-doubt about his new position in Washington. 'Close friends told him to cool things and relax, and not take things so personal,' the source was cited as saying.

(Photograph omitted)