Report by Starr to refute claims of Clinton role in Foster's death Right-wing groups say presidential aide was murder victim, not suicide

February 24, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has completed a voluminous report that sources say refutes claims by right-wing organizations that presidential aide Vincent W. Foster Jr. was the victim of a murder and that President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, tried to cover it up.

Running to more than 100 pages, the report rests on an exhaustive inquiry into the events surrounding Foster's death by handgun in July 1993, and was completed only recently, sources said.

"It is accurate and fulsome, and I believe it will be released shortly," one source said. "It puts the lie to that bunch of nuts out there spinning conspiracy theories and talking about murder and cover-ups."

Third look in death

Starr's investigation marks the third examination of Foster's death. Earlier findings of suicide were returned by a coroner and by Robert B. Fiske Jr., Starr's predecessor as independent counsel, but right-wing political groups have continued to allege that the president and first lady were implicated in Foster's death.

Foster, who served as deputy White House counsel, was a close friend of both Clintons and a former law partner of Hillary Clinton. Among his duties, he had helped prepare the tax returns of the Whitewater Development Corp., the Arkansas real estate venture involving the Clintons.

Starr has not indicated when he might release the report.

How to deal with the Foster report is one of the first decisions facing Starr as he addresses the larger challenge of restoring confidence in his investigation after the furor that erupted last week when he announced that he would step down as Whitewater counsel to take an academic post, then abruptly reversed his decision when it provoked a torrent of criticism.

His handling of the investigation into Foster's death is especially sensitive because it is shadowed by questions of appearances of the sort that continually have dogged Starr, a former federal appeals court judge and solicitor general in the Bush administration, since he accepted the Whitewater assignment 2 1/2 years ago.

The idea that Foster's death involved foul play and that the Clintons were implicated in the alleged crime has been promoted by right-wing groups that receive financial assistance from a foundation headed by Richard Mellon Scaife, a longtime member of the Pepperdine University board of regents. It was in order to become dean of Pepperdine's law school that Starr originally decided to quit the Whitewater investigation.

In addition to heading the law school, Starr was named dean of a newly created School of Public Policy that Scaife helped finance. Scaife's foundation contributed $1.1 million of the $2.75 million in start-up funds raised to launch the public policy institution.

Starr said Friday that he knew the Scaife Foundation had provided the funds but indicated that he saw no conflict of interest even though the foundation has financed groups that have used the news media to promote various theories about criminal conspiracies involving the Clintons.

The same organizations, Starr said, have been "sharply critical" of his own investigation. But these groups mainly have criticized Starr's investigation for failing to produce more criminal charges.

Other conservative links

Starr has links to other conservative organizations hostile to the president and has given at least one speech to a highly partisan audience, leading critics and even some supporters to suggest that he has a tin ear when it comes to the appearance of partisanship or conflict of interest. Some even suggest that this insensitivity may hurt the investigation.

Democrats have accused Starr of unfairly dragging out the Whitewater investigation.

Starr and his staff have blamed factors beyond their control for extending the investigation. Those include reluctant or recalcitrant witnesses, defense appeals or other maneuvers -Z designed to delay proceedings, and Attorney General Janet Reno's decision to expand Starr's mandate beyond the original ZTC charge to investigate the Clintons and Arkansas businessman James B. McDougal and their relationship with three Arkansas financial entities.

The investigation now includes circumstances surrounding Foster's death, the firing of the White House travel office staff, the White House staff's handling of sensitive FBI files and the truthfulness of testimony in the Whitewater investigation by the Clintons, their friends and associates.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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