Law firm allegedly shredded Foster file

March 04, 1994|By Stephen Engelberg | Stephen Engelberg,New York Times News Service

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- An employee of the Rose Law Firm here has told a federal grand jury that in late January he was ordered to destroy a box of documents from the files of Vincent W. Foster Jr., the White House lawyer whose suicide is under investigation by an independent counsel.

People familiar with the testimony of the employee, an in-house courier, said he had told the grand jury that he and a colleague had used a shredder in the firm's basement to destroy the papers. He testified that he had done so at the request of a clerk in the firm.

The firm's former partners include Hillary Rodham Clinton; Webster L. Hubbell, the associate attorney general; William H. Kennedy III, an associate White House counsel, and Mr. Foster, the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in July.

The courier, a college student who is among several assigned to run messages and errands, told the grand jury on Feb. 16 that he did not know precisely what he had shredded but that he was certain the papers had come from Mr. Foster's files, those familiar with the account said. He testified that he looked inside the box and saw that the papers were separated by binders marked with the initials "VWF," the firm's typical abbreviation for Mr. Foster.

The box itself also bore Mr. Foster's initials. No other employee at the Rose firm has those initials.

In a brief statement, the Rose firm denied that any of Mr. Foster's documents had been shredded. "No files of Vincent Foster's have been destroyed," the statement said.

Mr. Foster's files are potentially important to investigators.

While he was at the Rose firm, he worked on a wide array of legal matters for the Clintons, including the sale of the Clintons' share of the Whitewater Development Co., a real estate venture in the Ozark Mountains.

At the time of his suicide, Mr. Foster was working on various personal matters for the Clintons, including tax filings and the creation of the family's blind trust.

Investigators have sought clues to the circumstances of the lawyer's death, as well as the Clintons' finances, in everything from Mr. Foster's internal memos and telephone logs to his personal diary and even some cryptic scribblings discovered among his White House papers.

The courier testified that he had seen no references to Whitewater in the papers he shredded.

The timing of the shredding is unclear. By the courier's account to the grand jury, it took place around the time that Robert B. Fiske Jr., the independent counsel, was appointed on Jan. 20.

Shortly after Mr. Fiske began his work, he issued a sweeping subpoena that, among other things, demanded all documents relating to Mr. Foster.

The date of that subpoena has not been disclosed publicly.

If the shredding occurred after the firm was put on notice that Mr. Fiske wanted to review Mr. Foster's documents, such an action might have been improper, legal experts said.

Questions about shredding arose Feb. 9, when the Washington Times, quoting an unidentified Rose employee, reported that the firm had destroyed documents pertaining to Whitewater Development.

The newspaper reported that the documents were shredded on Feb. 3.

The courier's testimony describes shredding that occurred in January and appears to be unrelated.

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