Conspiracy theories are for Hollywood


Washington -- WHERE IS Oliver Stone now that the Senate's conspiracy buffs need him?

Remember Mr. Stone's hokey, pseudo-historic movie "JFK" that fantasized John F. Kennedy was bumped off by shadowy agents of the military-industrial complex?

Welcome to the Senate's summer re-run, titled "Vince: The Mystery That Will Not Die (If We Have Anything To Say About It.)."

Sure, Oliver Stone would have gone bonkers with this plot: Vince Foster, White House lawyer and Bill Clinton's lifelong pal, found dead on a Potomac hillside with a .38 in his hand.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans share Mr. Stone's thirst for the sinister, but not his creativity.

They're only sure they want to keep a Whitewater investigation burbling until the 1996 election. Maybe mud from this boring non-scandal will stick to candidate Clinton.

And they're as obsessed with Foster's death as radio talk-show callers, conspiracy nuts and right-wing money hustlers. These fantasists insist Foster was an Israeli spy, shot by a hit squad despite Hillary Clinton's warning. Conservative watchdog group Action In Media ran full-page ads, "Tell the Truth About Vince Foster." (And send $5,000).

So far nobody blames Elvis.

Naturally, the Senate's Whitewater committee, chaired by the stridently gabby Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., joined this chorus of ghoulish politics.

It will take three weeks and a million bucks to ask: "Who took the papers from Vince Foster's office?"

If you reply, "Who cares?" you agree with 67 percent of Americans who tell ABC-Washington Post pollsters the Whitewater probe is trivia designed to embarrass Mr. Clinton.

But the Senate's bloodhounds kept chasing Vince Foster's ghost this week.

"Today we see some real drama," hyped Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo, at the opening hearing on Tuesday. "A violent death that triggered late-night searches, documents disappearing, a laundry list of who took what, why, when."

But without Oliver Stone's sinister flair, the senators produced a ho-hum drone -- no grassy knolls, no hit men, no Nixonian gaps in a tape, no smoking gun.

"My judgment is that mistakes were made but there was no cover-up," said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

Republicans, though, suspect someone ransacked Foster's office for the Whitewater Truth -- whatever that is.

Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., flashed on a screen Foster's handwritten notes ("don't open that can of worms") about the Clintons' tangled real-estate taxes.

"No wonder the Clintons were nervous," said Senator Mack triumphantly.

Well, as a philosopher said, life repeats itself -- first as tragedy, then as farce.

If the Senate's hearings are farcical, real tragedy was relived by Webster Hubbell, jowly ex-Razorback football player who came to Washington with Bill Clinton to become a Justice Department official.

He'll go to jail next month for bilking clients at the Rose law firm in Little Rock.

They once were golden young lawyers together, Webb Hubbell and Hillary and Vince. Then came that July 20, 1992, night when Webster Hubbell was beeped in a Washington restaurant: "Vince's body has been found. He committed suicide."

As Webster Hubbell told what happened next, all partisan politics was forgotten in the hushed hearing room.

"I couldn't believe it," said Webster Hubbell in his soft Arkansas baritone. "I went home to call back. I went across the street where Vince's sister lived. His sisters, Sheila and Sharon, were there. I had to tell them."

He recounted going to Foster's home where U.S. Park police told Foster's wife what happened. "Lisa screamed and sat on the stairs," said Webster Hubbell.

"Quickly a lot of people arrived, including the president. I went upstairs to comfort Lisa."

Webster Hubbell drew a deep breath, his eyes watering.

"Senator, I've had some tough times the last two years. But that was the worst day of my life," he said, voice quivering.

"Trauma doesn't describe it. We couldn't believe it. No way that could happen to Vince Foster. So we were all blaming ourselves. We were guilty -- what could we have done to prevent this."

In the tense silence, no one listening to Webster Hubbell could avoid the truth: Beyond the Washington chimera, real people encounter real pain.

But the Senate thrives on conflict and comedy. It got both when Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, played to TV cameras by holding up Foster's briefcase.

"How could anyone miss the 27 pieces of paper from Vince Foster's last note?" demanded Senator Murkowski as cameras clicked.

He did not mention Foster's chilling words on those yellow scraps:

"I was not meant for the job or the Washington spotlight. Here ruining people is considered sport."

Foster's requiem ought to haunt every senator now embarked on The Great Whitewater Chase.

The Oliver Stone crackpots and political ghouls should let Vince Foster go in peace.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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