The most famous former student of my alma mater, Davidson College, future President Woodrow Wilson, only spent one year there before transferring to Princeton. Were it not for Secretary of State Dean Rusk and mystery writer Patricia Cornwell, one might well say that the college’s most famous students never graduated from the college, because NBA star Stephen Curry has yet to do so and, like Wilson, the subject of this article, Wilson’s fellow Virginia native William Styron spent only one year at Davidson before transferring away, in his case to Duke.
Styron had a curious special article in Newsweek magazine on April 18, 1994, that caught my eye. It was about the mysterious death of the 1967 Davidson graduate, deputy White House counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr., which had occurred the year before on January 20. Foster’s body had been found in an obscure Civil War relic known as Fort Marcy Park just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, lying behind an earthen berm some 700 feet from the park’s small parking area. The press had called it an “apparent suicide” right off the bat, when, in fact, there was really nothing apparent about it. The aggressive leader in the suicide selling job was the hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, and the lead salesman for The Post was the reporter Michael Isikoff. In that capacity, he wrote falsely that the investigating U.S. Park Police were turned away from the Foster home in Georgetown on the night of Foster’s death, and he had to have known that it was false because there was at least one reporter from The Post at the house that night. I discuss all these matters in some considerable detail in my recently published book, The Murder of Vince Foster: America’s Would-Be Dreyfus Affair. Isikoff would continue his cover-up reporting on the Foster case when he moved from The Post to Newsweek, which was owned at the time by The Washington Post.
Related to this matter is a recent interview of the lawyer and author, John O’Connor, by Cliff Kincaid about O’Connor’s recent book about the Watergate scandal. The title for the video of the interview is “The Washington Post Is an Arm of the CIA.” I also reveal in my review article of The Money and the Power by Sally Denton and Roger Morris that a well-known editor at The Post told the son of a friend of mine when the son was working at The Post as a summer job that he should join the CIA if he wanted to get on the fast track for promotion at the newspaper. It is also of some interest that the nearest federal facility to Fort Marcy Park is the CIA headquarters, hardly more than a mile away, and that the newspapers in the wake of Foster’s death seemed to bend over backwards to avoid mentioning that fact.
June 8, 1994
Mr. William Styron
Dear Mr. Styron:
Please accept my apologies for disturbing the tranquility of the morning for you yesterday. My intent was certainly not to provoke “an argument with a stranger” as you so indelicately put it. My purpose, rather, was to continue in my quest to learn the truth about the death of Vincent Foster on July 20, 1993. You had written an article in Newsweek that purported to solve the mystery, so it was only natural that I should attempt to pick your brain a little bit.
From your article it was apparent that you subscribe to the “simple thesis” that Foster shot himself out of depression. I hardly needed to be reminded of that. It was also apparent that you are something of an expert on depression, and I well know that there are a number of other professionals in the field to whom I might refer for more information. But if you were an expert on crimes of passion would you adhere to the thesis that the wife or Hillary hired a hit man to kill him? One should take care that he not assume that which he is trying to prove.
Before I accept a thesis as valid, I first want to test it, and testing requires evidence, which itself must be weighed and tested. You present three pieces of evidence in your article to support your thesis:
- “He had reportedly lost his appetite and his weight had dropped by 15 pounds, he had developed insomnia, he had spoken of feeling worthless, he had felt his concentration diminish…”
- “A close friend of Foster’s has confided that though he was clearly depressed, he never mentioned suicide, but this tells us little.”
- “It has been said that Foster had been given the names of two psychiatrists whom he never contacted.Among the most troubling details in his sad chronicle is the one concerning his consultation by telephone, only the day before his death with his family physician back in Little Rock, who prescribed an antidepressant.”
By the “been said” and “reportedly” I take it that you got #1 and #3 from published news reports. Had you not unilaterally and abruptly terminated our conversation I might have informed you of how untrustworthy those published reports have proved to be in the Foster case. To cite just one example out of many, both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that Foster took an antidepressant on the evening of July 19, 1993. However, the Park Police, in their news conference of August 10 (I have the transcript) declare emphatically that the autopsy found no drugs in Foster’s system. At her press briefing of July 29 White House spokesperson Dee Dee Myers states that the Foster family will “neither confirm nor deny” that Vince had taken any medication for depression (again, I have the transcript).
I would be more willing to accept that Foster consulted with his family physician if records of the telephone call and the filling of the prescription had been made public, but they have not been. You might have even talked with that physician yourself before you wrote your article to get a better feel for what actually took place, but apparently you did not.
For the “clear signs in the months leading up to his suicide that he was suffering from a major depression” the only first-hand evidence you seem to have come up with , then, is that “close friend” who apparently told you that Foster was “clearly depressed” (So much clarity, indeed). Here’s where your expertise on depression might have come in handy and this exchange is what I most wanted to talk to you about. Who is this person? I’d like to talk to him/her myself. What were the specific signs of depression that Foster exhibited to this person? Is this person qualified to recognize the signs of depression? How credible, and how disinterested in a legal sense, is this person? Is there any acceptable reason why this person should want to remain anonymous? From there we might have begun to make some real progress.
The most valuable experience I believe I had in my years at Davidson was my regular attendance at the euphemistically named coffee hours after formal presentations by visiting speakers. Those exchanges, in which the speaker had to defend his position before all comers, I considered not an argument, but the finest example of civilized, rational discourse and as the best possible vehicle for arriving at the truth. I can imagine, from what I know of him as a man and from what I have heard of his forensic skills, that Vince Foster participated in more than one of those truth-seeking sessions with me.
Though the stakes are now far higher, my purpose in calling you was exactly the same as when I went straight from Chambers Auditorium to the student union after an interesting or provocative speaker had had his say. In this case, I felt I owed it to Vince’s memory. But, alas, you shrank from the challenge.
Might I offer you a second chance? You are a professional man of letters, after all, whose work I have greatly admired. If you are at all interested in getting at the truth, as all true writers should be, let’s get it on. I await your serious response.
As one can gather from the letter, I had called Styron on the telephone, and the conversation didn’t last very long. And, as you could probably guess, Styron did not respond to the letter requesting the name of the “close friend” of Foster’s who had told Styron all about Foster’s obviously depressed state. Although I surmised it, I did not know at the time that the extensive interviews conducted by the U.S. Park Police and the FBI that were later released would turn up no such person. The false critic, Christopher Ruddy, in his book, The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, identifies Foster’s sister, Sheila Foster Anthony, and her husband, the Arkansas Congressman, Beryl Anthony, as the key people who had recognized Foster’s depressed state and had sought psychiatric help for him. However, when, four days after Foster’s death an anonymous source to the Washington Times had given Anthony as a reference for the first public indication that Foster was supposedly depressed, Anthony had responded angrily to inquiring reporter, Frank Murray, “That’s a bunch of crap. There’s not a damned thing to it,” and had hung up the telephone. Park Police records later released show that the sister Sheila was asked explicitly at Foster’s home on the night of his death if she could think of any reason why her brother might have killed himself and she responded in the negative. She volunteered nothing about any perceived depression or about having recommended psychiatrists for Foster to visit, something to which she would only later attest.
In his book, Blood Sport, James Stewart has Hillary Clinton aide Susan Thomases describing Foster pouring his heart out to her in the privacy of her apartment, expressing dejection over his job and the state of his marriage in her last encounter with him. But in her interview by the FBI, in her last meeting with Foster they were in the company of others in a restaurant and he seemed perfectly normal and in good spirits. This was consistent with how other friends and associates described him. We hardly need to be reminded these days that it is a crime to lie to the FBI, but it is not a crime to lie to a newspaper reporter or the author of a book, nor is it a crime for those authors and reporters to make things up. You may forgive my very strong suspicion that one of these two things took place in the attestation by the fiction writer, William Styron, in his special Newsweek article.
Styron was also wrong in reporting that Foster had lost 15 pounds. He doubtless got that bit of intelligence from an August 9, 1993, article in the New Yorker by Sidney Blumenthal, who would later become an aide to the Clintons. Blumenthal, who did not give his source for the information, like Styron, owed the weight loss to Foster’s distressed, if not outright depressed, mental state. Later, researcher Hugh Sprunt would discover that Foster had had a physical examination upon departing Arkansas for Washington, and his weight was recorded as 194 pounds. The autopsy report gave the weight of his body at 197 pounds, and this was after it had lost blood and had been lying outdoors for several hours on a hot July day.
Returning, finally, to “expert” opinion on Vince Foster’s “depression,” we have this excerpt from Appendix 3 of The Murder of Vince Foster, concerning the infamous October 8, 1995, 60 Minutes interview of Christopher Ruddy by Mike Wallace:
The criminal lawyer [James] Hamilton is also cited by Mike Wallace as his authority that Foster was depressed, but when interviewed on screen Hamilton hardly corroborates the characterization, saying only that he “had been told” that Foster had been experiencing bouts of anxiety, or something to that effect.
Wallace described Hamilton as the Foster family lawyer, without mentioning the fact that he had also been an important member of Bill Clinton’s presidential transition team who had authored a memorandum to Clinton counseling stonewalling in the Whitewater investment investigation case.
For what it is worth, Hamilton was a member of Davidson College’s graduating class of 1960 who received his law degree from Yale University.