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COLUMN RIGHT / PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS : Fiske's Exit Reopens Hope on a Mystery : The new prosecutor must be tougher. Start with suspicions about Vincent Foster's death.

August 07, 1994|PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS | Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant treasury secretary, is chairman of the Institute for Political Economy in Washington

Someone's lying big time about the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster. Is it original Whitewater special prosecutor Robert Fiske, the FBI or the star witness? A discrepancy of this magnitude cannot be swept under the rug. It is of far more consequence than the conflicting testimony of Treasury officials about their White House meetings that is occupying the attention of Congress and the media.

The discrepancies that are beginning to cause doubts about Fiske's investigation and inquiry into Foster's death are similar to the doubts senators have about the testimony of deputy Treasury secretary Roger Altman concerning his Whitewater contacts with the White House. They may have played a role in the decision Friday of the three Appeals Court judges, David Sentelle, John Butzner and Joseph Sneed, to take Fiske off the investigation and to replace him with former Solicitor General and Appeals Court Judge Kenneth W. Starr.

In both cases, there are unresolved contradictions. Altman's testimony is inconsistent with that of other officials and diary entries, and Fiske's report on Foster's death is contradicted by public statements of the star "confidential witness"--interviewed by Fiske and cited in his report--who found Foster's body.

Last Thursday, G. Gordon Liddy had the so-called confidential witness live on his radio show. CW, who discovered Foster's body in Fort Marcy Park, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, at 5:45 p.m. on July 20, 1993, said several times with emphasis that he told the FBI that Foster's hands were palms up, thumbs out and there was no gun in either hand.

This information is startling, because by the time the police arrived at the unattended body 45 minutes later, there was a gun in Foster's hand--moreover, a gun without any fingerprints on it. Normally, a discrepancy of this magnitude would set off alarm bells.

But not with Fiske. Instead, Fiske has a section in his report, "Why didn't CW see a gun in Foster's hand?" In this section, Fiske puts words in CW's mouth. The report claims that "CW has further stated that the natural foliage in the area made it difficult to see Foster's hands."

Perhaps I am hearing-impaired, but I distinctly heard the witness deny that he said any such thing. What the witness did say was that the FBI agent badgered him with hypothetical conditions in which he might not see a gun, but these were not the conditions that he observed.

Fiske's report seizes on the hypothetical discussion, not on the witness' report of the actual conditions that he observed. I heard the witness say that the police picture of Foster's right hand, palm down with the trigger guard around his thumb was "clearly and absolutely not what I saw."

CW needs to be called before Congress to testify, but there is little chance that Democrats will let this happen. In the House, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), who is masterminding the Whitewater cover-up by the Banking Committee, won't even permit the muzzled Republicans to mention Foster's death.

In the Senate, the investigation is about the veracity of Treasury officials. Altman is being hung out to dry to deflect attention away from the First Couple's Whitewater misdealings.

In his old age, Gonzalez has destroyed his reputation by blatantly abusing his power in order to cover up the political wrong-doing of others. New York Times columnist William Safire, the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Accuracy in Media believe that Fiske, too, has destroyed his reputation by participating in the cover-up.

To avoid the same fate, Starr must give us a real investigation of Vincent Foster's death and not fob off the unambiguous testimony of the witness who found the body. If the full dimensions of Whitewatergate are ever to be revealed, Starr will have to be a far tougher investigator than Fiske.

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