White House lawyer found shot dead in park: Apparent suicide of close friend of Clintons linked to scandal involving travel office

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The Independent Online
THE SCANDAL over the White House travel office is being blamed for the suicide of Vincent Foster, 48, deputy White House counsel and a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Foster died from a gunshot wound, apparently self-inflicted, in a park overlooking the Potomac River on the outskirts of Washington on Tuesday evening.

Foster was mentioned in a critical report issued earlier in the month on the firing of the White House travel staff and the attempt to replace them with a firm from Arkansas. He had also been criticised in press editorials as a legal crony of the Clintons who had previously belonged to Hillary Clinton's law firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.

President Clinton said Foster, 48, was 'my friend for over 40 years'. Like Mr Clinton he was born in the town of Hope in Arkansas and accompanied the Clintons to Washington as the number two lawyer at the White House. The President was appearing on CNN's Larry King Live show when Foster's body was identified and, although he had promised to extend the interview by half-an-hour, he abruptly decided to leave.

US Park Police said Foster's body was found at Fort Marcy, a small Civil War park. Foster was married and the father of three children.

Asked why Foster killed himself a sombre-looking Mr Clinton said yesterday: 'No one can know how things like this happen. I really don't. Nobody does. His closest friends sat around last night discussing it at some length. For many years he was always the Rock of Gibraltar when other people were in trouble.'

Mr Clinton said he did not think Foster's suicide was because he blamed himself for troubles at the White House.

Although Foster was involved in the decision in May to sack seven members of the White House travel office, which arranges travel for the White House press corps, he was not singled out for reprimand in the highly self-critical White House report on the incident. Four other White House staff were criticised for improperly dismissing the travel staff, appearing to put pressure on the FBI to investigate them and allowing a friend of President Clinton, with a financial interest in the travel business, to become involved.

The report, issued on the Friday before the 4 July Independence Day holiday to minimise publicity, did reveal that Hillary Clinton had taken a much closer personal interest in the travel office affair than previously disclosed. Foster, who for 22 years worked for the Rose Law Firm of which Mrs Clinton was also a member, kept her informed of all developments before the firings took place.

Although an all-purpose adviser to Mrs Clinton and a close friend of the President, Foster was self-effacing. He attracted publicity chiefly as a member of a close-knit group of lawyers, mostly but not exclusively from the Rose Law Firm, whom the Clintons brought to Washington. The chief White House counsel is Bernard Nussbaum, a New York lawyer, under whom Foster and William Kennedy III, both from Little Rock, served as deputies. Webster Hubbell, also a member of the firm, is associate attorney general.

The White House legal team was criticised not only for poor judgement over the travel office affair, but also for its actions in picking first Zoe Baird and then Kimba Wood as nominees to be attorney general. Each of them had in turn to withdraw when it was revealed that they had employed illegal aliens as domestic servants. The White House lawyers were also attacked for nominating and then abandoning Lani Guinier to take charge of civil rights at the Justice Department.

Right-wing commentators, notably in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and in the Washington Times, focused on Hillary Clinton and her friends from the legal world as vulnerable to attack.

Last week the Wall Street Journal wrote that Janet Reno, the Attorney General, 'is of course the latest media darling, and we might even join the praise if she ever really gets control of the Justice Department. For the evidence so far is that control has in fact rested with appointees from Little Rock's Rose Law Firm, which happens to be Hillary Rodham Clinton's former firm.'

This probably exaggerates the influence of the Little Rock lawyers. It was also always inevitable that the first months of President Clinton's administration would see a series of political fights over key legal positions in the White House, Justice Department and FBI.

This is because President Ronald Reagan was eager to promote his ideological views on law and order by appointing Republican judges, prosecutors and other legal officials. The Democrats are equally keen to reverse this. Foster may turn out to be a casualty of this wider political battle.

(Photograph omitted)