Couriers admit shredding after start of probe

March 09, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The law firm employee who testified before a federal grand jury about destroying documents from the files of Vincent W. Foster Jr. now says he was told to shred the material after a special prosecutor had announced that he would look into the suicide of the White House aide.

Jeremy Hedges, a part-time courier at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., pinpointed the date in a telephone interview yesterday. Mr. Hedges said that when he had fed the documents into the firm's shredder, he had already heard of the appointment of Robert B. Fiske Jr. as special counsel.

At the time of his appointment on Jan. 20, Mr. Fiske said that he would be investigating not only the Whitewater real estate venture, in which President Clinton and his wife were partners, but also looking into the circumstances surrounding the suicide in July of Mr. Foster, a longtime friend of the Clintons who was a deputy White House counsel and who in private practice represented the Clintons in Whitewater and other personal matters.

Even before a subpoena is issued, the law prohibits people from intentionally impeding an investigation by destroying evidence they know investigators want.

The courier also said yesterday that he and the other couriers employed by the Rose firm met with two of the firm's partners in February and that one partner challenged his recollection that he had shredded documents belonging to Mr. Foster and then cautioned him against relating "assumptions" to investigators.

Mr. Hedges said that although the partners had encouraged the couriers to cooperate fully with investigators, he felt that the sense of the meeting was "I should not tell them something they did not ask."

Ron Clark, a partner in the firm and its chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the meeting's only goal was to insure complete cooperation with Mr. Fiske's inquiry. Mr. Clark, who presided over the meeting, said Jerry Jones, the ** partner who counseled against assumptions, "was trying to say: 'They'll be asking a lot of questions. Just tell them the facts.'"

The firm, whose former partners include Hillary Rodham Clinton, Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell, and an assistant White House counsel, William H. Kennedy III, asserts that the documents Mr. Hedges shredded were an assortment of internal firm papers that did not come from Mr. Foster's files. Mr. Clark said that the firm had four witnesses, two lawyers and two clerks, who support this account. He declined to identify them but said they were prepared to testify under oath.

Mr. Hedges said yesterday that the explanation was "hard for me to believe." He said the box and all its file folders were marked "VWF," the firm's shorthand for Mr. Foster. He said that he had glanced at a handful of the documents and that some were letters on the firm's stationary that bore Mr. Foster's signature.

None of the documents he saw related to the Whitewater Development Co., Mr. Clinton's real estate investment, or James B. McDougal, Mr. Clinton's partner in Whitewater and the owner of the failed Arkansas savings and loan that is at the center of Mr. Fiske's inquiry, Mr. Hedges said.

After Mr. Foster's death, the removal of the files about Whitewater from his White House office led to much of the pressure on Mr. Clinton to ask for a special prosecutor.

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