Earlier this week, the Washington Post published some recent interviews with Donald Trump, in which the presumptive Republican presidential nominee brought up Vince Foster, a White House lawyer whose 1993 death spawned one of the first truly crazy conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Calling the circumstances surrounding Foster's death "very fishy," Trump told Post reporters that the Clinton aide "knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide." Then, despite having brought up the 20-year-old scandal himself, Trump demurred.
"I don't know enough to really discuss it," he said. "I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it's fair."
For those of you who don't remember the early days of the Clinton White House, or who have, understandably, lost track of the details of this 20-year-old conservative fever dream, Foster was a childhood friend of Bill Clinton from Arkansas, who accompanied the Clintons to the White House as deputy counsel when Bill was elected president.
Four months into the first Clinton term, Foster found himself at the center of a partisan blowout over the mass firing of staffers in the White House Travel Office, one of the first of approximately 1 billion Clinton-era scandals.The Wall Street Journal wrote three op-eds about the firings, calling out Foster specifically, and the lawyer—who admittedly didn't have the stomach for partisan warfare—took the criticism to heart.
He reportedly became checked out at work, at one point starting to write a letter of resignation and then tearing it up. On July 19, the day before Foster died, the president called to check in and invite his friend to see a movie, but thought he sounded fine at the time. The following day, Foster left work early and was found dead at 6 PM that evening, his body resting on a Civil War cannon near the Potomac River. He had a bullet hole in his head and a revolver in his hand.
Over the next few years, at least three separate investigations—including one by Kenneth Starr, the attorney who later probed Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky—concluded that Foster's death had been a suicide. But in the conservative imagination, Foster's tragic suicide quickly morphed into a tabloid murder scandal and political cover-up, fueling an enduring conspiracy theory around the secret life of America's most powerful political couple.
But even as far as Clinton scandals go, the basic premise of the Vince Foster Conspiracy—that the Clintons were somehow involved in Foster's death—is pretty incoherent, largely because no one has ever been able to explain why someone supposedly wanted the White House lawyer murdered.
From there, it's easy to get lost down the Vince Foster rabbit hole, if you really want to. The National Enquirer ran a cover story last year claiming that Hillary Clinton was "facing jail" over her alleged involvement in Foster's death. The Enquirer also takes it as gospel that Clinton had an affair with Foster. Articles I'm not going to link to here claim that Foster had a second wound in his neck. Another common claim is that his wife, Lisa, only pretended to recognize the gun found at the scene—which was an antique family heirloom.
Naturally, Congress got in on the action as well. In 1994, then-Indiana Congressman Dan Burton claimed in a floor speech that he had staged a reenactment of Foster's death in his backyard by shooting a watermelon, and concluded that it had to be a murder. Burton, it should be noted, is an anti-vaxxer who now lobbies for an organization founded by the Church of Scientology.
Foster's name also came up in connection to a handful of other White House scandals and conspiracies, most notably the early-90s clusterfuck known as Whitewater. More than 100 pages of the Senate Whitewater Committee's official report on its investigation into the real-estate scheme focuses on Foster, including an extensive examination into the circumstances around his death.
In the years since the Foster case, relatively mainstream right wing figures have brought up Vince Foster from time to time. In 2005 for instance, Rush Limbaugh implied that the Clintons use their friend's death to intimidate any defectors who threaten to reveal the couple's dark secrets. In that context, the fact that Trump—a consummate troll with a documented affinity for hoaxes and conspiracies—has resurrected the 20-year-old ghost of Vince Foster is not at all surprising.
But while Trump may have briefly hijacked the news cycle with an unflattering reminder of the early Clinton years, the reality remains unchanged. The fact is, Foster did commit suicide, and his death—though tragic and avoidable—had basically nothing to do with the Clintons.
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