Clinton's lawyer interfered in probe of Foster's suicide

February 09, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- It is two days after the death of Vincent Foster, deputy White House counsel. Foster's body has been found with a single bullet wound to the head in a federal park a few minutes outside Washington.

Four hours after the body is discovered, Bernard Nussbaum, White House counsel, searches Foster's White House office.

The next day, U.S. Park Police arrive to search the office as part of their investigation into Foster's death. But Secret Service agents prevent them from entering.

Now, two days after the death, Nussbaum finally allows the Park Police inside the office. But he blocks their view of Foster's desk as he goes through Foster's papers, deciding what they can see.

Some papers he gives to the police. Other papers, including those having to do with the Whitewater land development deal in Arkansas, he does not.

Last week, on C-SPAN, I said that as a former police reporter I had never heard of police being obstructed in such a way.

True, Foster was a lawyer for the president. And maybe sitting on his desk were top secret plans for a U.S. attack on North Korea. (Unlikely, but never mind.) In that case, and that case alone, I could understand why the president's national security adviser might want to go through the papers strictly for reasons of national security.

But the president's lawyer keeping the Whitewater file? And telling police what they could see and what they could not see?

This was not right.

After the show, I got a call from an attorney. You miss the point, he told me. This lawyer's duty is solely to his client, Bill Clinton.

And that, in fact, is pretty much Bernard Nussbaum's own explanation. He says that a client's files in a lawyer's office belong to the client.

Right. Just like Richard Nixon said the White House tapes belonged to him.

Nussbaum knows better than this. He knows that a president has responsibilities to the nation and so does the president's lawyer.

And while it might be OK for some Wall Street lizard to wiggle around and demand secrecy for his financial dealings, it is not all right for a president to do so.

A few days after I voiced my misgivings on TV, the Park Police report on the Foster investigation appeared in the press. And it strongly suggests that Nussbaum impeded the investigation.

Nussbaum insisted, for instance, that White House lawyers sit in when police interviewed members of the White House staff.

Why? The police would not have been asking about Whitewater. (They probably knew nothing about it.) They would have been asking standard questions to determine whether the death was a suicide or homicide: Had Vince Foster been depressed? Had he received any threats? Did he talk about killing himself? Was he afraid?

So what was Nussbaum so worried about?

Nussbaum has an explanation for why White House staff had to be accompanied when talking to police: "When a colleague just died, I think having somebody sit with you has a comforting effect."

But comforting to whom? To the colleague? Or to Nussbaum?

"Had this been a murder, I don't know what we would have done if we ran into that kind of roadblock," Maj. Robert Hines, Park Police spokesman, said of Nussbaum screening what files the police could see. "But we were pretty sure we knew what we were dealing with."

In other words, the investigation was compromised from the beginning and by a White House "roadblock."

Why did the police put up with it? Well, they were Park Police. They normally would not find themselves on the White House grounds unless a rabid squirrel was threatening the president.

And they got muscled by guys who know how to muscle for a living.

On Jan. 21, Clinton appeared on Larry King's talk show, and King asked if it was "fair game" for the Whitewater special counsel to investigate a possible connection between Foster's death and Whitewater.

"Whatever he wants to do, you know, let him do it," Clinton replied. "That's not my business to comment on."

It isn't. It isn't the president's business to interfere with any investigation.

And he doesn't need to. Bernard Nussbaum already did it for him.

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