Suicide verdict on Clintons' friend

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'I WAS not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington,' wrote deputy White House counsel Vince Foster on a scrap of paper just before he died. 'Here ruining people is considered sport.'

To the immense relief of the White House the report released yesterday by Robert Fiske, the Independent Counsel, on the circumstances surrounding the death of Foster - one of the Clintons' closest friends - concludes that he did indeed commit suicide in a park in a Washington suburb almost exactly a year ago.

The investigation showed that Foster did not kill himself because he feared revelations about the Clintons' part in the Whitewater real-estate deal or other business activities. He committed suicide because he was depressed by a scandal surrounding the White House travel office and a series of hostile editorials in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Clinton will also be pleased that Mr Fiske has decided that there is no justification for a criminal prosecution of officials who took part in meetings about Madison Guaranty, the failed Arkansas savings bank, run by the Clintons' former business partner Jim McDougal.

Ever since the body of Foster was found in Fort Marcy park just across the Potomac River from Washington on 20 July, 1993 his death has been the subject of speculation. Rumours have suggested he was murdered or, alternatively, that his suicide was connected to the Clintons' Whitewater troubles. Because he a partner of Hillary Clinton in the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas his mysterious death did much to revive media interest in the Clintons' business troubles.

A panel of pathologists established 'that Mr Foster placed the barrel of the weapon into his mouth with the muzzle essentially in contact with the soft palate when he pulled the trigger.'

There were no signs that somebody else had 'forced the gun into his mouth.'

Knowing the conspiracy theories circulating about Foster having died elsewhere, the report emphasises that park police found the him soon after his death. Blood on Foster's face was still wet but was starting to dry and his body was still relatively warm. The .38 Colt revolver was tightly gripped in Foster's hand and there was a powder residue on his hand.

The gun was indentified by Mr Foster's sister as one their father 'kept in his bedside table'. His wife Lisa said the Colt looked like one kept in their home in Arkansas and which she had brought to Washington.

Mr Fiske seeks to dispose of other questions raised about the suicide. Why, for instance, did nobody hear the shot? Fort Marcy park, one of a series of fortifications built to defend Washington in the Civil War, is isolated and the sound of a shot would have been muffled by traffic on nearby Chain Bridge Road.

No bullet was found but the FBI belkieve it could have gone anywhere. The body was disovered by a confidential witness (called CW in the report) who at about 5.45pm on 20 July had turned off the road into the park to urinate. He spotted the body but did not see a gun, but this was probably because he was standing on a rampart of the fort some distance from the corpse.

There is no doubt Foster was depressed before he died. For the first time he was under very public attack by the media, in the shape of the Wall Street Journal. A scandal surrounding the attempted sacking of the White House travel office staff and their replacement by friends from Arkansas 'had a profound effect on him.'

He told his wife and friends he was considering resigning but his relatives 'believed the personal humiliation he would have felt had he returned to Arkansas under those circumstances prevented him from resigning.'