Reed Irvine - Editor
|August A, 1995|
WAS FOSTER'S "SUICIDE" NOTE FORGED?
The Senate Whitewater hearings have devoted many hours to the so-called suicide note of former White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster that was allegedly found torn up in his briefcase six days after his death. The scraps of paper were allegedly found by Steven Neuwirth, a White House Associate Counsel who was boxing up Foster's personal belongings to be returned to his family. Neuwirth testified that he took the scraps to White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum.
The note was undated and unsigned. It said nothing whatever about suicide or farewells to Foster's family. It did suggest that Foster was unhappy about criticism directed at him and the Clintons. This was accepted as evidence that Foster was sufficiently depressed to commit suicide.
The Park Police, who were investigating Foster's death, asked Sgt. Larry Lockhart, U.S. Capitol Police handwriting expert, now retired, to verify that the note was written by Foster. Lockhart was shown the note and a copy of a signed letter known to have been handwritten by Foster. He gave a written opinion that the note and the letter had probably been written by the same person.
On August 6, Reed Irvine met with Lockhart, showing him a sheet of paper with 12 words that were found in both the Foster letter (Senate Banking Committee Hearings 1994, p. 1714) and the note. They had been copied and enlarged greatly on a copying machine. Lockhart was told that these words came from two documents, neither of which was identified. He was asked if, in his professional opinion, all 12 words had been written by the same person. Lockhart proceded to divide the words into two groups based on differences that he observed. In one group he placed four words from the letter and one from the note. In the other group he placed six words from the note and one from the letter. In other words he made only one mistake in grouping the words known to have been written by Foster and the words taken from the unsigned note. That was a capital "I" written in cursive script.
When shown blow-ups of parts of the two documents so he could see the context of the words, Lockhart said "very possibly" and "probably" the two documents were written by different persons. At that point he didn't know that he was reversing the opinion he gave the Park Police in July 1993. When that was brought to his attention he argued that Foster's handwriting could have been affected by depression or the medication he understood he was taking. The reversal of his opinion had been taped with his knowledge, but he declined to state publicly that the authenticity of the note should be rechecked, using additional documents known to have been written by Foster and employing magnification.
A few days later, another professional handwriting expert took the same test we gave Lockhart with identical results. After bringing this to the attention of the Senate Select Committee, the Justice Department and several journalists, we obtained some additional samples of Foster's handwriting and a better copy of the note than the one we copied from the August 2 Wall Street Journal. (Please turn to the Notes from the Editor's Cuff for the rest of this story.)
The American people have heard a lot about the book deal that House Speaker Newt Gingrich made with Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins publishing house. But they have heard far less about what is actually in the book, To Renew America, in which in one of the most provocative chapters, "Ending the Drug Trade and Saving the Children," Gingrich declares the drug problem a national disgrace and offers a seven-point plan to turn the situation around, including tougher penalties for drug use, tougher sentences for drug dealers and an intensified military/intelligence effort against drug lords abroad. On July 14, during a public appearance, Gingrich discussed his views on the drug problem, saying that there should be a national referendum pitting legalizing drugs against much tougher measures. Gingrich said the latter approach, which he favored, would win with 80 percent of the vote.
A public opinion survey issued by the Times Mirror Center for the People & The Press on June 25 indicates that Gingrich is correct. Asked what should be the nation's foreign policy priorities, 75 percent of the public said stopping international drug trafficking. This came before such other concerns as terrorism, international competitiveness, illegal immigration, the global environment, trade with Japan and the war in Bosnia.
The irony is that the Gingrich approach is not even being presented as an option by our major media. Instead, the American people are being treated to program after program endorsing a further weakening of our efforts. Music Television (MTV) directed such a program, titled "Straight Dope," at America's young people in August of last year, airing it no fewer than six times. Another program, this one directed at adults, was ABC's April 6 television network special, "America's War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions," which put forward a variation of drug legalization known as "harm reduction," in which the government directly dispenses or authorizes the use of currently illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The objective is to control the drug problem and reduce drug-related violence. But the show was as flawed as its producer, Jeff Diamond, the former "NBC Dateline" producer who took the blame for rigging two GM pick- up trucks in an effort to insure that they would catch fire in a crash. Dr. Herbert Kleber of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University was interviewed by correspondent Catherine Crier for over an hour and tells AIM he refuted every point that ABC tried to make. But none of his interview aired.
Thomas Constantine, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said a key flaw in the program was the failure to explain how such a "harm reduction" approach might work in the U.S. Would all drugs be legalized? Would they be provided to children? If not, would law enforcement still be necessary to protect them? And what would stop a black market from developing with drugs stronger or cheaper than the government-approved variety? Constan- tine's point was that the ABC solution would very well result in the worst of all worlds--more drug use, more law enforce- ment, and more drug-related violence. New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal called the ABC drug program "the worst effort at dealing with a major American problem ever aired" because it was stacked in favor of those advocating one form of drug legalization or another.
An equally flawed program was aired on the Discovery cable channel on June 20. In this case, the narrator and executive producer was an old friend of Rosenthal--former "CBS Evening News" anchorman Walter Cronkite. Rosenthal was supposed to be a featured participant in this program, titled "The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace." The Discovery channel sent out a news release on June 2 announcing Rosenthal's participation in the show. AIM has learned that Rosenthal, a proponent of an aggressive war on drugs, was interviewed for more than an hour. But none of it aired. Sanford Socolow, an executive producer of the Cronkite show, acted surprised when we told him that we knew that Rosenthal had been interviewed for the program. While insisting the show was balanced and fair, he refused to explain why the Rosenthal interview was junked. The only authentic proponent of the war on drugs interviewed in the hour-long program was President Clinton' s National Drug Policy Director, Lee P. Brown. He was given a few seconds at the end of the show to defend the prosecution of the drug war. But the use of Brown hardly makes the program objective. Brown, a former New York City police commissioner, is not considered the most articulate proponent of the anti-drug point of view. In regard to the Gingrich comments cited earlier, for example, Brown embarrassed himself by issuing a hasty press release saying that by offering two diverse options on the drug issue, the House Speaker was being "defeatist" and had "abdicated responsibility." Brown made it seem as if Gingrich was himself endorsing the legalization option. Senator Richard C. Shelby says that Brown's office has been so ineffective ill the war on drugs that it should be abolished and that his $10 million budget could be better spent on drug interdiction.
Rather than being partisan by directing his fire at the House Speaker, Brown should take aim at television networks like ABC, the Discovery channel and even MTV. The Discovery channel program is particularly noteworthy because of Walter Cronkite's association with it. Once dubbed "the most trusted man in America," Cronkite still carries a lot of credibility with those members of the public unfamiliar with his real record. To be sure, Cronkite did not explicitly endorse drug legalization, per se, on the program. But he did promote the "harm reduction" option, which is generally how the legalizers are describing their approach these days, and he endorsed the formation of a high-level federal commission to re-study the issue, a long-time objective of the drug lobby. One pro-drug activist, in a message on the Internet computer network, noted, "The ABC drug legalization program...was the first major bold media step in the coming change of opinion, and this Cronkite thing was just another nudge along the way to the final destination." The activist added, "If Cronkite had come out in direct support of drug legalization, most people would have dismissed him and what he said." That made the "harm reduction" approach an absolute necessity because few people actually understand its horrifying ramifications. The "final destination," as this activist made clear, is "total drug legalization."
Wayne Roques, former demand reduction specialist with the DEA, commented that Cronkite's reporting on drugs reminded him of how Cronkite misreported the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War as an enemy victory, when it was actually a defeat for the Communists. "His deceptive reporting helped create an anti- Vietnam atmosphere that resulted in our 'Peace with Honor' surrender," Roques said. "Now, Mr. Cronkite has applied his considerable skills and grandfatherly image to demoralizing the American people relative to the drug problem and the efforts to combat drugs in our society on behalf of the counterculture that would lead us to the abyss of drug legalization." At the end of the show, Cronkite invoked the name of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, an architect of our Vietnam debacle, in saying that if we don't change our approach we may one day say we were as wrong in the war on drugs as McNamara says we were wrong in Vietnam. Once again, however, Cronkite missed the point. We lost in Vietnam because of a failure of political will by people like McNamara and because of media misreporting by people like Cronkite! This is the same explosive mix that threatens our efforts to keep our young people drug-free. The lesson of Vietnam, which applies to the war on drugs, is that we must have the will to carry the effort forward to a successful conclusion, and that the media can't be permitted to join the enemy side.
Ironically, as Cronkite was telling the nation that we were going overboard in the war on drugs, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was acting to reduce federal penalties for dealing crack cocaine, growing marijuana plants and laundering drug money. This amazing series of actions, which has received virtually no media attention, reflects President Clinton's influence on the commission, which sets penalties for all federal crimes. The commission is now dominated by Clinton appointees. Unless Congress over- turns the commission recommendations by November 1, they will go into effect. This continues a pattern of activities under the Clinton Administration that have seriously weakened America's war on drugs. To cite yet another example, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the author of two books on the drug problem, Narco. Terrorism and Evil Money, points out that, under Clinton, the Justice Department has eliminated the money-laundering section of the Criminal Division and has moved attorneys with expertise in prosecuting drug-money- laundering cases to other areas.
Why are the media surrendering in the war on drugs? The Clinton Administration's backing away from the problem is certainly one factor, But another explanation is suggested in a special "action update" sent by a group called the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) to its members around the country, attempting to solicit support for the ABC program. The DPF said the cards and letters of support, to be sent to producer Jeff Diamond, would demonstrate that there is a "large constituency" for programs like this. But the DPF "action update" was revealing for acknowledging that its own officers, members and associates were "well-represented" on the program. DPF said three members of its board and the winner of one of its DPF awards were on the program. Under these circumstances, it's no wonder the DPF liked the show. It would have been nice if ABC had been equally forthright in acknowledging that a special interest group whose leadership is committed to legalizing drugs had such a major influence in the program.
Who is behind the DPF? The answer turns out to be George Soros, a controversial billionaire who runs an offshore invest- ment fund with financial interests as diverse as casinos and a Colombian bank previously accused of laundering drug money. Soros, who poses as a humanitarian, runs literally dozens of organizations around the world, including the Open Society Fund, headed by a former national director of the ACLU, Aryeh Neier. Why isn't ABC investigating his empire and sending a top investigative reporter to question him about his role in the drug legalization movement? This is a story that the major media are reluctant to touch. But Dr. Kleber, for one, thinks it's worthy of attention: "It's interesting now that Soros has put over $10 million into this legalization effort that suddenly the media have become much more sympathetic to his point of view." Most of this $10 million has gone to the DPF.
It appears that the DPF and another Soros-supported organiza- tion, Drug Strategies, were instrumental in putting together the Walter Cronkite special on the Discovery channel. Ironically, the president of Drug Strategies, Mathea Falco, was presented on the program as an opponent of drug legalization who wanted more emphasis on drug treatment. Along with Brown, she was given a few seconds at the end of the program to say negative things about legalization. But this was very misleading, if not dishonest. Falco, who served as an Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control in the Carter Administration, is not considered a hard-line opponent of drug legalization by those intimately involved in the anti-drug movement. Indeed, the Carter Adminis- tration made a name for itself with its soft-on-drugs policies.
Dr. Peter Bourne, Special Assistant to President Carter for Health Issues, testified in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana. Bourne, who later resigned following charges he had used cocaine and improperly written a prescription for a controlled substance, was a close associate of Falco. In fact, the book, High in America: The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana, says that Falco had been "put in the top drug-policy job at State" by Bourne. NORML is the acronym for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, at whose parties Bourne had reportedly used cocaine. Veteran anti-drug fighter Malcom Lawrence, a former foreign service officer who also worked on narcotics matters for the State Department, charges that "one of Ms. Falco's basic and long-time objectives has been the decriminalization of marijuana." For this reason, when Falco was reportedly being considered for the position now held by Lee Brown, Lawrence came out in strong opposition to her.
Even more significant was the role of attorney Kevin Zeese, identified as a "consultant" to the Cronkite show. Zeese, a former top official of NORML, served as a vice president and counsel to the DPF. His official biography identifies him as the author of the Drug Testing Legal Manual 1988 and co-author of Drug Law: Strategies and Tactics. He is also described as the editor of criminal defense manuals "focusing on the defense of drug cases." It is not known if Zeese has personally represented drug users or dealers, but it is clear that he has been of critical assistance to lawyers who do.
At one DPF conference, Zeese presented a $10,000 cash award on behalf of the DPF to a controversial lawyer, Tony Serra. At the event, Serra said to applause from the audience that he smokes marijuana (and sometimes hashish) every day of his life. An article distributed by the American Lawyer news service said he quit his first job as a deputy district attorney and then moved to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where "he suffered a sea change in identity" and "experimented with hallucinogenic drugs and radical philosophies." The article added, "Tony Serra likes drug dealers. He believes his murder clients are 'innocents' driven to desperate acts by sociopolitical forces beyond their control. Serra doesn't simply represent criminal defendants; he wills himself to become them." The article quoted Serra as saying, "My sustenance is drugs and murder. I'll try any political case that comes along. If you kill a cop, I'll pay to take the case." It also said, "Serra described how, in the past, wakes were conducted in his office to commemorate narcotics traffickers who had died, as it were, in the line of duty. As Serra tells it, bits of their charred remains would be mixed with a small amount of the drug the decedents specialized in selling. 'If it was coke, we'd snort up their bones,' Serra elaborates, adding that marijuana dealers went into his hash pipe."
This background helps us understand the kind of crowd that the DPF has become involved with. But Sanford Socolow, an executive producer of the Cronkite show, acted unaware of the fact that his own consultant, Kevin Zeese, had extensive dealings with the DPF and NORML and that Zeese specialized in offering advice on drug cases. Socolow then tried to downplay Zeese's role, saying he just made a few calls. Yet Zeese is also listed in the official transcript as a source of information for the program.
Regarding the substance of the show, Cronkite followed what now seems like a predictable pattern, saying that the drug war is too expensive, too harsh and there are too many drug offenders in prison, displacing truly violent criminals. We need new approaches, Cronkite said, including free needles for drug addicts, to reduce the spread of AIDS. This is an aspect of the "harm reduction" approach that Cronkite talked about at length. In fact, however, Cronkite's perceived need to offer an alternative to the "all-out war" on drugs was contradicted by statistics that he himself felt obligated to recite: so-called "casual" drug use among Americans has been reduced by half since 1985, and drug use among high school students had consistently declined from 1985 to 1991. "In 1992," Cronkite said, "that trend suddenly reversed. Today, war or no war, drug use in the schools is going back up." Cronkite asked, "What do we do now? Redouble our efforts, pour ever more billions into the 'war' we've been fighting these past ten years, get tougher still, build more prisons?"
Despite this rhetorical flourish, this wasn't a serious option for Cronkite, and he didn't bother to explain why drug use had started back up. Could it have something to do with the fact that many experts say the Clinton Administration has abandoned the war on drugs? Could it have something to do with the return of pro-drug messages in music and films? Could it have something to do with the reemergence of a pro- drug lobby that confuses young people about the dangers of illegal drugs? None of these questions was asked, much less answered, by Cronkite.
On a practical level, building more prisons is certainly an option. But Cronkite did his best to argue against that by citing, in case after case, the high costs of keeping someone incarcerated. In this way, he argued that money was limited and that the best thing to do was save the available space for really dangerous criminals, not drug offenders. Cronkite didn't mention that the costs could be lowered if politicians would stand up to the liberal judges and their ACLU allies who coddle the criminals and if legislation is passed to end prison perks. Rep. Dick Zimmer, who has introduced a bill to do just that, says the perks include in-cell television, pornographic materials, computers and modems, in-cell coffee pots, musical instruments and even catered prime rib dinners.
Another option in the war on drugs is more drug testing. The Supreme Court has upheld a drug testing program of student athletes by an Oregon high school. The school started the tests after disruptions in class got out of hand and after evidence suggested that student athletes were not only drug users but leaders of the drug culture. Yet one of the main themes of the Cronkite program was that we are already being tough enough. For instance, Cronkite claimed that "almost a million and a half Americans are already serving time in federal, state and local prisons, mostly for drug offenses." The source for this alarming statement was supposed to be a Department of Justice publication, Crime in the United States, but no year for this data was given and no page number from the report was offered.
There's just no way this figure can be correct. It appears that Cronkite and his consultant, Kevin Zeese, confused federal figures with those at all levels of government. It is certainly true that drug law violators make up a growing share of the prison and jail population. The Bureau of Justice statistics publication, Drugs and Crime Facts, 1994, reveals that drug offenders made up 61 percent of federal inmates, 21 percent of state prison inmates, and 23 percent of those in local jails. But this does not translate into "most" of the million and a half people in prison being drug offenders because the federal figure is such a small percentage of the overall number. On the federal level in 1991, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of convicted drug offenders was only 17,349. Of these, 73 percent went to prison. In any case, the notion of drug "offenders," which may sound relatively harmless to some, does not mean drug users. Princeton University criminal justice expert John Dilulio says that only 2 percent of those admitted to federal prison in 1991 were convicted of pure drug possession. Most of those serving prison time are major traffickers. On the federal level, the average quantity of drugs involved in these crimes was large: 6 pounds for heroin, 2 pounds for crack cocaine, 183 pounds for powder cocaine, and 3 1/2 tons for marijuana. Does Cronkite want these people to be released from prison to make room for others?
See the Editor's Notes.
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THE LEAD STORY IN THIS ISSUE, ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF THE MISLABELED "suicide" note allegedly found in Vincent Foster's briefcase being a forgery, was set and ready to go to press last week when additional samples of Foster's handwriting fell into our hands. Rather than try to make space for the rest of the story in the body of the report, I decided to tell it here. Please read the story "Was Foster's 'Suicide' Note Forged?" before reading these Editor's Notes.
THE NEWLY ACQUIRED SAMPLES OF FOSTER'S HANDWRITING ARE ALL NOTES written on lined paper, as was what we will call the "torn-up note" to distinguish it from the rest. The new material shows that the letter written by Foster, which was used by the police and by us as the exemplar to determine whether the torn-up note was in his handwriting, was written with greater care than his notes. What first led us to think the note might be a forgery was the marked difference in the overall appearance of the writing.
THESE SAMPLES ALSO SHOW THAT FOSTER WAS NOT ALWAYS CONSISTENT IN THE way he wrote words. The test we gave Lockhart and our other expert relied on differences in the way Foster wrote the few words that appeared in both the letter and the torn-up note, mainly the word "the." The three "the's" found in the letter were all quite similar. It was apparent to the experts and others that the "the's" in the torn-up note differed from those in the letter. There are two "the's" in the new samples, and in my opinion they are closer to those in the letter than to those in the torn-up note, but there are differences that might cause experts to disagree. I must also point out that we now have a better photocopy of the torn-up note than the one we copied from The Wall Street Journal. Seemingly minor distortions in the old photocopy were a factor in persuading me that the note was not written by Foster.
THE CASE FOR FORGERY IS CONSIDERABLY WEAKENED BY THE NEW SAMPLES AND the improved photocopy of the note. They have convinced me that I made a mistake in thinking that Lockhart and the other expert we consulted were too conservative in saying only that it was "probable" that the two documents were written by different people. I concluded that the note was a hoax and I said so on TV, radio and in one of our syndicated columns. I should have recognized that the available evidence was not adequate to support such a serious charge. This was a mistake, and we have corrected it on our TV and radio program and in our column.
THIS DOESN'T MEAN THAT WE ARE RULING OUT THE POSSIBILITY OF FORGERY. I want to see more analysis using the new material. I think the technique we used of showing the analysts blowups of individual words and partial text must be employed in this case because the political implica- tions of a finding of forgery are so enormous that I doubt if many experts, knowing what is involved, would want to stick their necks out. Some people are unwilling to believe that a conspiracy of this magnitude could have been engineered by anyone in the White House. Others are eager to believe it. Either way, feelings influence judgment.
I INVITE YOU TO JUDGE WHETHER THERE IS A BASIS FOR FURTHER INQUIRY INTO THE possibility that the note was a hoax. Reproduced below are five lines of handwriting, one from the torn up note, two from the new notes and two from the Foster letter. Here are some things I suggest you look at carefully: (1) capital "I's": There are none comparable to the one in line one in the other notes or the letter; (2) "the's": All "the's" that begin with a lower case "t" in the letter and new notes have two garlands (saucer-like curves) after the downstroke of the "h." Only two of the seven in the torn-up note have two garlands. Like the two in the first line, four have an acute angle instead of the first garland and one has a single garland that is barely curved; (3) the crossing of the terminal "t's": The style used in the "not" and "meant" in the first line is used on 5 of the 8 terminal "t's" in the torn-up note. It is found in only 3 of the 40 terminal "t's" in the new notes and the letter.
FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILIP HEYMANN TOLD THE SENATE WHITE- water committee that the White House handling of the Foster investigation had created a suspicion of wrongdoing even where there may have been no wrongdoing. The handling of the note has certainly provided abundant grounds for suspicion. What wrongdoing is being covered up is something for Con- gress and the Independent Counsel to discover. The claim that the note lay unnoticed in Foster's brief- case for three days is hard to believe. Associate White House Counsel Steven Neuwirth's claim that the pieces of yellow paper fell out of the briefcase when he turned it on end is even more unbelievable. We experimented with a very similar briefcase on our TV show, putting in scraps of paper and turning the briefcase on end. No paper fell out even when I shook the briefcase, proving once again that the pull of gravity is vertical not horizontal. The 30-hour delay in turning the note over to the police is suspicious. I haven't been able to think of any reason to refuse to release photocopies of the note other than fear that it would be subjected to independent investigation of its authenticity.
WHY WAS THE AUTHENTICATION OF THE NOTE ENTRUSTED TO SGT. LOCKHART OF the U.S. Capitol Police, not the FBI? Could Sgt. Lockhart, who worked for Congress, be expected to tell the White House that what purported to be a note written by Vincent Foster was possibly written by someone else? Sgt. Lockhart, now retired, expressed surprise that no fingerprints were found on the note. He told me that paper holds latent prints very well, sometimes for decades. It should have been possible to find Foster's finger prints all over a note that he is supposed to have written and torn into 28 pieces within a few weeks of his death. It is equally strange that no fingerprints of Bernard Nussbaum and Steven Neuwirth, the two senior White House officials who found and assembled the note, were not on a single one of the pieces that they put in place. Were they wearing gloves?
THE SECRETARIES IN THE NUSSBAUM/FOSTER OFFICE EXPRESSED DISBELIEF THAT anyone as meticulous as Foster would tear the note into little pieces and then leave it where it would be found. Equally strange is the way the note was torn. Judging from the tears shown in the photocopy, it was first tom vertically into four strips. It appears that the first two strips were then put together, per- haps folded in half, and torn horizontally into six pieces each. Then the second two strips were put together, not folded, and torn horizontally into eight pieces each. That is a very odd way of tearing up paper. I can think of no reason why Foster would want to do it that way, but I can see a reason why those who assembled it might do so. If the purpose of the exercise was to increase the credibility of the story that the scraps of paper had been overlooked, small pieces were preferable. But it would have been somewhat more difficult and messier to reassemble the entire note if it was all torn into small pieces. That might be why the strips with most of the writing was torn into larger pieces. It also appears that the horizontal tearing was designed to minimize the damage to entire lines of text. The eight horizontal tears traversed only seven words in the entire text.
THOSE SCRAPS OF YELLOW PAPER COULD BE THE KEY TO SOLVING SOME OF THE mysteries surrounding the death of Vincent Foster. The stench of perjury at the Senate Whitewater heatings was overpowering. Indictments might force out the truth.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Two cards are enclosed, one addressed to Walter Cronkite about his program on drugs and the other for you to send to a publication of your choice about the Foster note.