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Vince Foster

Vincent Walker Foster, Jr. (January 15, 1945July 20, 1993) was a Deputy White House Counsel during the first term of President Bill Clinton, and also a law partner and friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton. His death was ruled a suicide by multiple official investigations, but remains a subject of interest among conspiracy theorists.

Early life and education

Foster was born in Hope, Arkansas, where he was a childhood neighbor and friend of Bill Clinton for the first eight years of his life, until Clinton moved away. He graduated from Hope High School in 1963 as president of his class. He attended Davidson College, graduating in 1967. After starting at Vanderbilt University Law School, he transferred to the University of Arkansas School of Law, where he was managing editor of the law review and graduated first in his class in 1971. Additionally he scored the highest in his class on the Arkansas bar exam.

Foster married Elizabeth (Lisa) Braden in 1968. They had three children, Vince III, Laura, and Brugh.

Arkansas lawyer

After law school Foster joined the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, and within two years was made partner, one of only nine in the firm at the time. He was the head of the Arkansas Bar Association committee that oversaw legal aid, and as such worked with legal aid clinic worker Hillary Rodham in successfully overcoming an unreasonable measuring requirement for indigent clients. Foster then initiated the hiring of Rodham at Rose Law Firm, where she became its first ever female associate (and later partner); Foster and fellow partner Webster Hubbell were instrumental in overcoming the reluctance of other partners to hire a woman.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs call Foster "one of the best lawyers I've ever known," and compared him in style and substance to Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch role in the classic 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird. Writer Carl Bernstein has described Foster as "tall, with impeccable manners and a formal mien...elegant in perfectly tailored suits, and soft-spoken to the point of taciturnity."

Foster practiced mostly corporate law, eventually earning nearly $300,000 a year. By the time Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Vince Foster was at the pinnacle of the Arkansas legal establishment, having received the Outstanding Lawyer Award from the Arkansas Bar Association, while being described as the "soul" of Rose Law Firm and soon being named one of "The Best Lawyers in America."

White House Counsel

After Clinton's 1992 election, Foster joined his White House staff. The Foster residence was on Cambridge Place in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Foster had difficulty making the transition to life and politics in Washington. He found his involvement in vetting new presidential appointments during the transition period to be causing him depression and anxiety, and he blamed himself for the failed Zoe Baird nomination. The failed Kimba Wood and Lani Guinier appointments were also in his purview. His wife and youngest son were not with him, having stayed behind in Arkansas so the son could complete his junior year of high school at Catholic High in Little Rock. Foster handled the Clintons' Madison Guaranty and Industrial Development Corporation paperwork, and several Whitewater-related tax returns as Deputy White House counsel.

In early May 1993, Foster gave the commencement address at his University of Arkansas Law School alma mater, and said:

Days after the speech, the White House travel office controversy erupted. Foster was the target of several hostile Wall Street Journal editorials in June and July 1993, with titles such as "Who is Vincent Foster?" He became quite upset over the travel office matter and the possibility of a congressional hearing at which he may have been called to testify. Disliking the public spotlight and suffering from weight loss and insomnia, he considered resigning his position but feared a personal humiliation upon returning to Arkansas.

Death

Wrestling with clinical depression, Foster was prescribed the mild sleeping aid/anti-anxiety pill Trazodone over the phone by his doctor, though he only had taken a few before he died. The next day, Foster was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, a federal park in Virginia. He was found with a gun in his hand and gunshot residue on that hand. An autopsy determined that he was shot in the mouth and no other wounds were found on his body. A suicide note of sorts, actually a draft of a resignation letter, was found torn into 27 pieces in his briefcase, a list of complaints specifically including, "The WSJ editors lie without consequence and lamenting, "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport."

His funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Little Rock. Bill Clinton gave an emotional eulogy in which he recalled their boyhood times together and quoted a line from Leon Russell's "A Song for You": "I love you in a place that has no space and time." Foster was buried in Memory Gardens Cemetery in his hometown of Hope. Foster was 48 years old and was survived by his wife and three children.

Subsequent investigations

There have been three official investigations into Foster's death, all of which concluded that he committed suicide.

The first was by the United States Park Police in 1993, in whose jurisdiction the original investigation fell. Due to Foster's position in the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted in the investigation. Investigations by a coroner and Independent Counsel Robert B. Fiske, in a 58-page report released in 1994, also concluded that Foster had committed suicide. Conspiracy theories of a cover-up still persisted. After a three-year investigation, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr released a report in 1997 also concluding that the death was a suicide.

In addition, two investigations by the U.S. Congress found that Foster committed suicide.

Legacy

Foster's death, occurring just six months into the new administration, is thought by some to have ended the optimism and remaining innocence from much of the White House staff. White House chief-of-staff and childhood friend Mack McLarty said that "It was a deep cut. It clearly had a tremendous impact." Fellow White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum felt that if Foster had lived, he would have helped resist the calls to appoint Independent Counsels, and the many investigations lumped under the Whitewater umbrella that occupied the administration and the Clintons for the rest of their terms, might not have happened. As it happened, how the White House and Hillary Clinton in particular handled Foster's files and documents immediately after his death became an issue of much investigation itself.

See also

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Books

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