Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, depressed in the days shortly before his 1993 suicide, cried at dinner with his wife, sought legal advice from attorneys and told his mother that he was unhappy because work was "a grind."
That poignant portrait of Foster is sketched in a newly issued report by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who concluded that the longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton took his own life. The report cites a suicide expert's opinion that "to a 100% degree of medical certainty," Foster killed himself.
Starr announced his conclusion about the cause of Foster's death on July 15, agreeing with a string of investigators, including previous independent counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr. But the special court that oversees independent counsels did not issue Starr's report until Friday, so those mentioned could submit comments. The 114-page document provides new details about Foster's state of mind before his death and evidence collected at the crime scene.
The conclusion that Foster committed suicide is based on analyses by experts and criminal investigators retained by Starr's office, including Dr. Brian D. Blackbourne, a forensic pathologist who is medical examiner for San Diego County; Dr. Henry C. Lee, director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory, and Dr. Alan L. Berman, executive director of the American Assn. of Suicidology.
In stating his certainty that Foster committed suicide, Berman observed: "No plausible evidence has been presented to support any other conclusion." Starr said in the report that he knows of no "single, obvious triggering event that might have motivated Foster to commit suicide." But he cited evidence that Foster's state of mind was consistent with suicide.
During his six months at the White House, Foster was involved in "difficult and stressful" issues, the report noted. They included the appointments of an attorney general and a Supreme Court justice, legal issues involving health care, the firing of White House travel office employees, the blind trust for the Clintons' investments and tax treatment of the sale of their interest in the Whitewater land investment.
In addition, Foster was the target of critical editorial commentary and "reputation was clearly important to Mr. Foster," Berman said.
Starr's report answers in detail questions about the crime-scene evidence that critics had said cast doubt on previous conclusions about suicide.
One question dealt with the lack of fingerprints on the gun. The report quoted FBI laboratory scientists as saying that a lack of fingerprints "is not extraordinary" because the handle of the weapon was textured--not smooth--and lacked "a surface that is receptive" to formation of prints.
Other skeptics had claimed that there was relatively little blood where the body was found, indicating death may have occurred elsewhere and that the body had been moved. But Starr reported that there was "a large amount of liquid blood in the body bag and in Mr. Foster's body," which, he said, "further indicates that the location where the body was found is consistent with the primary scene [and] therefore unlikely that Mr. Foster's body was moved . . . from another location."
Medical experts also concluded that "high-velocity blood splatters" on Foster's face, hands and shirt were intact, with "no signs of alteration or smudging."
The report said that this finding disproves "any theory that the fatal shot was fired elsewhere and the head wrapped during movement or cleaned upon arrival." In addition, there were no signs of rips, tears or scrapes on his clothing, officials said.
Starr discounted the significance of the fact that the fatal bullet was never found. A wide area of the park was thoroughly searched but, because of the angle in placing a gun in his mouth, "the bullet could have cleared the treetops in Fort Marcy and landed well outside the park" or could have ricocheted off a tree or other object nearby, the report said.
The disclosure months after his death that sensitive papers were removed from Foster's office by White House officials is still being investigated by Starr's staff.