Police felt impeded in Foster probe

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- On the second anniversary of the suicide of deputy White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr., U.S. Park Police officers told the Senate Whitewater committee yesterday that the White House did not fully cooperate with their investigation of the death.

Maj. Robert H. Hines said he contacted a senior official at the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Police, after the two investigating officers complained that presidential aides were not being cooperative.

"There was some feeling we were not getting the cooperation we felt we should have," said Major Hines.

He said the officers were allowed to enter the office two days after the death. But they told him that Bernard W. Nussbaum, then the White House counsel, had handled all the papers and that they were not allowed to look at much.

Had his investigators examined Mr. Foster's briefcase, Major Hines said, they would have found his torn-up note about the cruelties of political life in Washington. White House officials did not find the note until days later.

The Whitewater panel is examining the handling of documents in Mr. Foster's office just after his suicide on July 20, 1993.

The members are trying to determine whether the White House deliberately kept from the police items related to the Whitewater controversy.

They are also trying to determine whether Mr. Foster's death was related to his concerns about the ill-fated real estate project in which President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton had invested.

Detective John Rolla of the Park Police, who also testified yesterday, said the two officers were "angry" at their treatment at the White House the day after Mr. Foster's death.

"No respect was given to them," he said.

But Major Hines acknowledged that the administration's actions, although frustrating, were not criminal and did not affect their conclusion that Mr. Foster killed himself.

Asked by a Republican senator whether the White House's interference had turned the police investigation into a "sham," Major Hines said: "I wouldn't call it a sham. We would have liked to have looked at some of those documents ourselves."

Earlier this week, Webster L. Hubbell, a former associate attorney general, said that White House officials were concerned about the privacy of documents in Mr. Foster's office because many of them, such as a file on potential Supreme Court nominees, were sensitive and were protected by executive privilege.

Sgt. Cheryl A. Braun, the third Park Police officer to testify yesterday, said that on the night of Mr. Foster's death, she asked David Watkins, the White House official in charge of the building, to seal Mr. Foster's office so nothing would be disturbed.

She said Mr. Watkins agreed but failed to tell her that someone had already entered the office at his request to look for a suicide note.

She acknowledged, however, that the Park Police had no authority to order the office sealed.

Detective Rolla, who, along with Sergeant Braun, visited Mr. Foster's home the night he died, said Park Police were looking only for a note or some indication of Mr. Foster's state of mind, and were not interested in going through records.

In other matters, the committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, said they were disappointed that the independent counsel investigating Whitewater, Kenneth W. Starr, had denied a request by the committee for the results of a lie-detector test taken by Margaret Williams, chief of staff to Mrs. Clinton.

Ms. Williams has been accused by a Secret Service agent of removing documents from Mr. Foster's office. She has denied the charge and, according to the White House, passed a polygraph test.

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