Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vincent Foster

Damaged Reputation

Hillary Clinton, 1993
Hillary Clinton, 1993

To all those who knew Foster, the notion that he had put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger came as a complete shock. True, he was under increasing scrutiny in the hardball political world of Washington, D.C. One of a handful of star attorneys brought from Little Rock with the Clintons, he wasn't used to the intensity of the work pace and the relentlessness of the political foes of the new administration. Foster, nicknamed "Pencil" for his tall skinny frame, had mastered the legal realm in Little Rock as a partner in the Rose Law Firm. He had been happy there, with time left over to spend with his family and serve local art causes. But the beltway is a long way from Arkansas. That he came from the little known and even less understood southern locale as a handpicked member of Clinton's governing team seems to have spurred the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board to write four editorials in June and July that year questioning Foster's adherence to the rule of law, his ethics and even his identity, as the White House had refused to release a photo of the new deputy counsel. In one, the newspaper implied that Foster and Iran-Contra document-shredder Oliver North "might hit it off."

View of Little Rock, Arkansas
View of Little Rock, Arkansas

The Journal scrutiny deeply rattled a man who knew his colleagues in Little Rock read the paper religiously. More germane to his actual work life, Foster was also facing a possible Congressional inquiry into his involvement in the firing of seven people from the White House travel office, what would become known as Travelgate. Foster had taken direction from Hillary Clinton in the affair and faced charges that he was complicit with the Clintons in using an FBI investigation to shake up the office and install friends in those positions.

Olliver North
Olliver North

None of this sat well with Foster, a perfectionist who had never faced a career setback. He'd graduated at the top of his class at the University of Arkansas Law School, scored highest in the state on his bar exam, and seemed to be at the pinnacle of his career before coming to Washington. Three weeks before his death, he told his brother-in-law, Beryl Anthony Jr., a Washington lawyer, "I have spent a lifetime building my reputation, and now I am in the process of having it tarnished.'' Closer to that fateful Tuesday, Foster asked his wife Lisa, "How did I get myself into this?"

To many who would follow the unfolding saga set off by Foster's death, that question remains unanswered to this day.

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