No matter how many times conspiracy theories are disproved, they never die.
Witness the return of a decades-old canard holding that Vince Foster, a longtime friend and associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton, did not commit suicide in 1993 (contrary to the findings of multiple investigations), but instead was murdered by the Clintons “because he knew too much.”
Since the mid-1990s, Foster’s name has held a place of prominence on the viral list of “Clinton Body Bags,” a constantly growing roster of Clinton contacts who supposedly died under “mysterious circumstances.” Like the theory that Foster didn’t really kill himself, the rest of the “Body Bags” list has been discredited time and time again.
The Vince Foster theory persists because it has a partisan fan base. While campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump lent it credence during a 2016 interview in which he called the circumstances of Foster’s death “very fishy,” the Washington Post reported:
“He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,” Trump said, speaking of Foster’s relationship with the Clintons at the time. “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”
He added, “I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it. 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.”
The rumor cropped up in September 2018 in the form of a meme shared by two hyperpartisan Facebook pages, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children and Cold Dead Hands:
The timing was curious. “On this date in 1993,” the meme says, “Vince Foster went to Fort Marcy Park and shot himself 3 times in the back of the head to avoid testifying against Hillary Clinton.” But Foster committed suicide in July of that year, not September. After some searching, we found that the meme had been previously posted on 20 July 2018, when that part of the claim, at least, would have been accurate.
The decision to re-share it in September 2018 (assuming there was any thought behind it at all) may have had to do with the fact that the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had just run into a roadblock in the form of an accusation of sexual assault by a woman who said Kavanaugh groped her at a party in the 1980s. The most likely explanation for bringing up Foster would seem to be that it was meant to divert attention from a Trump-related scandal to a Clinton-related scandal, but there’s a complication: Kavanaugh led the investigation of Vince Foster’s death by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in the mid-1990s, an investigation that confirmed (ironically, in this context) Foster’s death was indeed a suicide.
Kavanaugh has been condemned, on the one hand, for reopening an investigation that had already been concluded by a previous independent counsel, Robert Fiske, and “tormenting” Foster’s family (in the words of liberal pundit Paul Begala) on the basis of rumors that the Clintons were somehow involved in his death. But Kavanaugh’s involvement has also given rise to a strange new addendum to the conspiracy theory in far-right circles, namely that in exonerating the Clintons he helped cover up wrongdoing on their part.
Right-wing pundit Andrew Napolitano gave voice to this accusation during a Fox News Channel appearance:
You remember Vince Foster who killed himself in the White House? How did his body get from the White House to Fort Marcy Park? Who was the prosecutor in charge of figuring out how his body got there? Who was the prosecutor that exonerated Hillary and the thugs that moved his body? A young Brett Kavanaugh.
Whatever the motivation behind its re-sharing, the meme got almost everything wrong. What’s true is that Foster killed himself in 1993 (although it was in July, not September), and that he did so in Fort Marcy Park in Virginia (not, contrary to Napolitano’s claim, in the White House).
But the sarcastic claim that he “shot himself three times in the back of the head” (implying that it wasn’t really a suicide) is a fabrication. Every investigation to date has found that he shot himself once, in the mouth, with his own handgun. The implication that his death was connected to an expectation of his giving testimony against the Clintons is equally false. Foster, who was a White House deputy counsel at the time, was distraught over accusations of malfeasance involving the White House Travel Office, and he had sought treatment for depression prior to his suicide. Foster consistently maintained that the Travel Office scandal was baseless.
As the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler wrote:
Yes, there is a fringe minority of people who will believe in just about every conspiracy theory. There are hacks who believe that Foster died in the White House and that his body was moved. There was even a member of Congress who fired bullets into a cantaloupe (or was it a watermelon?) in an effort to prove that Foster was killed.
But there were also five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources.
Yes, the bullet was never found. (Foster died in a wooded park.) Yes, the Clinton White House was sometimes slow to release information or took steps that at times raised suspicions, such as removing from Foster’s office files concerning an Arkansas real estate deal. But that was all examined, dissected, discussed, investigated two decades ago — and found to be not material. The fifth probe lasted three years — and still found nothing.
- Correction [21 September 2018]: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Fort Marcy Park is in Washington, D.C. and that Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of sexual assault were classmates.
DelReal, Jose A. and Robert Costa. “Trump Escalates Attack on Bill Clinton.”
The Washington Post. 23 May 2016.
Howard, Adam. “Despite Trump’s ‘Fishy’ Comments, Vince Foster Case Is Closed.”
NBC News. 24 May 2016.
Howe, Caleb. “Paul Begala Says Brett Kavanaugh ‘Tormented’ Vince Foster’s Family: ‘A Vicious, Cruel Abuse of Power.'”
Mediaite. 18 September 2018.
Kessler, Glenn. “No, Donald Trump, There’s Nothing ‘Fishy’ About Vince Foster’s Suicide.”
The Washington Post. 25 May 2016.
McLaughlin, Aidan. “Fox’s Napolitano Pushes Wild Conspiracy Theory About Kavanaugh, Clinton, Vince Foster Death.”
Mediaite. 10 July 2018.
Wilentz, Sean. “Why Was Kavanaugh Obsessed with Vince Foster?”
The New York Times. 5 September 2018.