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Report portrays Foster as anxious, depressed


WASHINGTON -- In a report on the suicide of deputy White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr., the Whitewater special prosecutor paints the most complete portrait yet of Mr. Foster as a profoundly depressed and troubled man given to sleeplessness, brooding and visible anxiety attacks.

"From time to time, Foster experienced what his wife described as anxiety or panic attacks, marked by heavy sweating and a strained voice," states the report released yesterday by the special prosecutor, Robert B. Fiske Jr.

One of those panic attacks occurred shortly after he arrived in Washington, on the night the White House rescinded the nomination of Zoe Baird to be attorney general in the face of widespread criticism. Mr. Foster had had a role in researching that appointment.

"He went to bed at about 2:30 a.m., sweating profusely, and became sick," the report states. "He told family members that he felt that everyone was criticizing him. . . . Foster blamed himself for the failed nomination and was concerned that he had let down the president."

Vincent Foster was 48 years old, a husband, father of three children, an acclaimed Arkansas lawyer and a friend to both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton when his body was found on July 20, 1993, in Fort Marcy Park, a Civil War memorial on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

U.S. Park Police, having found a gun in Mr. Foster's hand, a bullet hole in his head, and no evidence of a struggle, immediately concluded that the death was a suicide. A Fairfax County coroner agreed.

But rumors were rampant. Events added to the skepticism: Federal authorities did not make their reports public. White House officials gave conflicting statements in the hours after his death. Mr. Foster's colleagues in the counsel's office were seen as overprotective of his papers -- one Whitewater file was given ++ to Mr. Clinton's personal attorney.

In his inch-thick report, the special prosecutor bluntly mentions some of the rumors, speculation that has infuriated the president and distressed Mr. Foster's family.

The rumors include that:

* Foster didn't commit suicide; he was murdered.

* The death may have been a suicide, but the body was moved by Clintonites from the White House or from a secret apartment and taken to Fort Marcy Park.

* Foster's death was related to the Whitewater affair.

The first two are demonstrably false, Mr. Fiske asserts, citing voluminous forensic evidence and the unanimous verdict of a panel of four renowned pathologists.

Nor is there evidence, Mr. Fiske adds, that Whitewater had anything to do with Mr. Foster's depression.

"We found no evidence that issues involving Whitewater . . . or other personal legal matters of the president or Mrs. Clinton were a factor in Foster's suicide," the report adds.

"This should put to rest the irresponsible speculations -- many of them politically motivated -- that something more sinister occurred," said White House counsel Lloyd N. Cutler. "We hope these rumor-mongers and the media that published their rumors will now leave the Foster family in peace."

But while Mr. Fiske was trying to lay to rest some fanciful speculation, information in his report raises questions about the official version that Mr. Foster's White House colleagues and friends had no warning of the impending tragedy.

Moreover, the report suggests that the ferocious work schedule in the Clinton White House may have exacerbated Mr. Foster's deteriorating emotional and mental state.

"Foster's position at the White House generally demanded that he work from between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night, either six or seven days a week," the report states. "He took no vacation or weekends off until the weekend immediately prior to his death. The demands of counsel's office were severe, and . . . friends and associates recall that in the last two to three months prior to his death, he showed signs of stress and had virtually no time to relax in the ways that he had in Arkansas."

The report says he had a prescription for sleeping pills, but didn't take them because he feared becoming addicted. He apparently, however, was taking some of his wife's Valium, the report states, because it was found in his bloodstream along with an anti-depressant, Desyrel.

Colleagues noticed that Mr. Foster took some critical editorials in the Wall Street Journal too hard.

At least two White House officials, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, thought that Mr. Foster had become obsessed with the controversy over the White House travel office.

Mr. Fiske's report reveals that a torn note found after Mr. Foster's death in his briefcase was not a suicide note but instead the outlines of what Mr. Foster's defense would be if called to testify on congressional hearings, which he thought were coming, into the travel-office fiasco.

By July 20, however, hardly anyone in Washington except Mr. Foster was focusing on the travel office. That day, the Clinton White House was upbeat. Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg was wowing them on Capitol Hill, and Louis J. Freeh had just been introduced in a Rose Garden ceremony.

"We hit two home runs today, Vince," Mr. Nussbaum recalls telling Mr. Foster.

Mr. Foster barely responded, and the report suggests a reason: Mr. Foster had already decided what to do. The day before, he had addressed and stamped some envelopes in his office, one of them to his mother containing oil leases that had been left to her when Mr. Foster's father died.

That night after work, Mr. Clinton called because he'd heard that Mr. Foster "was feeling down," the report states, based on Mr. Fiske's interview with Mr. Clinton. The president invited him to watch a movie, which Mr. Foster declined, and they chatted.

The next morning, his wife, Lisa, recalls him standing "stiffly" in the kitchen. On the way to the White House, he dropped his son, Vincent, at a Metro station, and his daughter, Laura, at work. At 1 p.m., he left his office, telling a secretary there were some M & Ms left on his tray if she wanted them.

"I'll be back," he said.

He didn't come back. His body was discovered about 5:45 p.m. by a motorist on the George Washington Parkway. He found Mr. Foster's body lying on his back on a hill, his hand still trapped by the trigger.

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