In memoriam: Patrick J. Knowlton, 12/19/1954 – 4/21/2021
Imagine if some two decades later one of the lawyers who was primarily responsible for the Warren Commission Report were to write a book accentuating the report’s virtues and attacking its many critics. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because just such a book was written by David Belin, whose articles used to show up with some regularity in the mainstream media doing just that. Now, a very similar book has come out that does the same thing with regard to the death of Bill Clinton’s Deputy White House Counsel, Vincent W. Foster, Jr. One of its revelations is that its author is a former colleague and apparent admirer of Belin and his work:
Years earlier I had worked with lawyer David Belin, who had been senior counsel to the Warren Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination of JFK. Warren was a man in a hurry and believed the nation needed to know what had happened as soon as possible.
Belin concurred in the commission’s findings, but lamented that in the final report they had not discussed and debunked various conspiracy theories. Released on September 24, 1964, the report failed to knock down the wilder stories that sprang up. Consequently, they grew exponentially. Belin was so upset by this fallout that he wrote his own book: November 22, 1963: You Are the Jury. (p. 70)
If you, too, are a David Belin or Warren Commission admirer, this newer book, written by the Independent Counsel in the Foster death case, Ken Starr, might be for you. Published in 2018, but only recently discovered by this writer, it is entitled Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation.
Starr does differ from Belin in one major way, however. Belin might have, like Starr, freely used abusive language to describe doubters of the official truth, but I don’t recall that he was sanctimonious. By contrast, from the picture that Starr paints of himself in his book, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Groucho Marx line, “Integrity is everything. If you can fake integrity, you’ve really got it made.”
The son of a Texas minister in a conservative Church of Christ congregation that doesn’t permit musical instruments in its services, Starr was a smart kid, as he tells it, and also very ambitious, as you can read easily enough between the lines. Unfortunately, the values with which he might have been imbued by his home life and the ambition that he has displayed in his chosen legal and political field don’t make a very good match for one another in modern America, so the values have had to go, only to be worn by the grown-up Ken Starr as a sort of useful ornament for display purposes.
If all you knew of the man was what you learned from reading the book, you’d never guess that he had been relieved of his duties as President of Baylor University two years before the book’s publication for his role in the cover-up of rampant sexual offenses by members of the football team or that prior to that he had been a member of the all-star legal team for Jeffrey Epstein that managed to get Epstein a virtual slap on the wrist for taking sexual liberties with minors that would have landed almost anyone else in the slammer for a very long time. You might say that Starr was just being a good lawyer, but that’s not really the sort of feather in one’s legal cap that you’re likely to find this preacher’s kid boasting about. You can bet that the gig paid quite well, though, so he’ll be crying all the way to the bank about it, as they say.
Bit Part for Foster
The first thing one notices about the book is how little of it is devoted to Foster’s death. Chapter 5 is entitled, “The Vince Foster Death Investigation,” and it is only a scant 12 pages in length. Starr picks the narrative up again in Chapter 15, entitled “Shift to Washington, D.C.,” but we find there only a couple of pages of misinformation about the resignation of his first lead investigator of the Foster death, Miguel Rodriguez. We shall have more to say about that later.
That Starr should devote only 14 pages out of a total of 315 pages to memorialize his investigation of Bill Clinton fits the narrative that we have been sold, though. By the end of 1993, the first year of the Clinton presidential administration, the realization had set in that some more authoritative voice had to be invoked than that of the U.S. Park Police that Foster had committed suicide in July. The New York Times had been running a series of articles probing a shady real estate venture in which Bill and Hillary had been engaged with Jim and Susan McDougal known as Whitewater. The catalyst for the appointment of an independent counsel to give his imprimatur to the suicide conclusion was a December 20, 1993, Washington Times article that the Park Police had discovered that Whitewater documents had been removed from Foster’s office by White House staff on the night of Foster’s death. An investigation of Whitewater would be begun that included looking into the Foster death mystery.
Crime writer Dan E. Moldea gave away the game that was being played in his 1998 book, A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm. He interviewed the Park Police officers who did the investigation and they revealed to him that, as we had suspected, they had never even heard of Whitewater at that point and therefore could not have told the Washington Times reporter that the missing documents were “Whitewater related,” although he had given them as the source of his information. The stage had been set, though, for another “investigation” of Foster’s death by special prosecutor Robert Fiske—the independent counsel law having been allowed to expire—under the general rubric of a Whitewater investigation. When the independent counsel law was renewed the next year, Starr replaced Fiske, and the same game was played all over again, as it is now one last time with this memoir in which Starr intentionally gives the least attention to that which is most important.
On page 69, well into his Vince Foster chapter, Starr pays the Arkansas lawyer his supreme compliment:
Vince Foster’s death haunted me. In many ways, I was a lot like him: serious to a fault. Foster had been needled by the media, which I knew all too well could be brutal, especially for someone not used to the public eye.
At the beginning of the chapter, on page 63, we have this:
Often referred to as courtly, regarded as one of the most talented lawyers in Arkansas, Foster had been at the vanguard of the incoming Clinton administration. A smooth professional who carried himself with great dignity, Vince Foster was perfectly situated to be a franchise player. Smart and experienced in Arkansas legal matters, he went way back with the Clintons.
But then the further picture he proceeds to paint of the very stable and dignified family man with great experience in the rough and tumble world of the law and not a little bit in sordid Arkansas politics is of a fragile hot house plant who wilted at a little criticism from only one source, the Wall Street Journal. At this point, something I wrote back in October of 2017 is worth repeating:
I was rummaging through my files a few days ago and stumbled across a copy of The Wall Street Journal that I had saved that had a lead editorial entitled “Vincent Foster’s Victory.” It appeared on June 24, 1993, exactly a week after the “Who Is Vincent Foster?” editorial. It is in no way an attack on the man. Rather, it offers rather backhanded praise for his lawyerly skill in arguing what the Journal sees as the right legal principle in support of what they also see as the Clinton administration’s wrongheaded purpose, that is, keeping the deliberations of Hillary’s Health Task Force secret. The editorial was so unremarkable that I had apparently saved the edition because of a critical op-ed piece about the National Endowment for the Arts that ran beside it, where I see I had underlined a sentence that I liked. The editorial reinforces my point that The Wall Street Journal’s writings about Foster were in no way vicious. In fact, they stand in stark contrast to what one sees these days in virtually all the newspapers daily about anyone you might name in the Trump administration, especially about Donald Trump, himself.
It’s no wonder that when the Park Police interviewed all the key Foster family members, which included Vince’s wife Lisa and his older sister, Sheila Foster Anthony, on the night of the death, no one could think of any reason why Foster might have been motivated to take his own life. And there was no mention by anyone of any sort of depression or psychiatric problems. That is likely why The Washington Post found it necessary to lie outrageously in a July 30, 1993, article and say that, according to the White House’s spokesman, David Gergen, the Park Police were turned away from the Foster home that night by the Foster family lawyer, because “Lisa Foster and family members were too distraught to talk.” The Post’s reporter, Walter Pincus, was at the Foster residence as he would later report, so the newspaper had to have known that the story, written by Michael Isikoff and the late Ann Devroy, was false. The ridiculous motivation for the “suicide” had to be concocted later.
In the pitifully little attention Starr gives to the actual details of the Foster death case, he manages to get some facts wrong:
Shortly after lunch on July 20, Foster grabbed his coat; bade farewell to his executive assistant in the White House Counsel’s office, Linda Tripp; gave her some mints from the White House Mess, and left.
Tripp was the last known person in the White House complex to see Vince alive. (p. 68)
Tripp was not “his” executive assistant; as the office executive assistant, she was Bernard Nussbaum’s executive assistant. The “mints” were actually M & M’s that came with the cheeseburger that Foster ate for lunch. And, officially, Tripp was not the last known person in the White House complex to see Foster alive. That was the uniformed Secret Service officer at the West Wing door, John S. Skyles, who exchanged pleasantries with Foster as he left.
These are really just small technicalities, though. The very important point missed by Starr and by all of the press accounts is that when Foster left the White House proper, he had not yet left the White House compound. It is a point that has also been overlooked, no doubt intentionally, by the various “investigations” that have taken place of Foster’s death. The large Eisenhower Executive Office Building a few steps to the west is also within the compound, and it houses most of the White House staff, including those of the White House legal staff, of which Foster was a part. For Foster to leave his office without saying where he was going, and then to go out the West Wing exit, the most likely conclusion is that he was going over to the big building next door for some sort of meeting. From there, he likely left the White House compound in the company of someone else as a passenger in that person’s vehicle.
We say that because FBI agent William Columbell testified before the Senate Whitewater Committee on July 29, 1994, that Foster’s car was never parked in its allotted space in the White House compound on July 20, 1993, the day of his death, and the key witness in the case, Patrick Knowlton, who drove his car into the parking lot for Fort Marcy Park where Foster’s body was found for an emergency urination by a nearby tree, described a Honda Accord with Arkansas plates quite different in age and color from the one that belonged to the Foster family. The White House compound security cameras would have shown exactly when, and likely with whom, Foster left the compound, but that was a point that neither Starr and his investigative team, the FBI, the Senate Whitewater investigators, nor any member of our stellar press ever raised.
Agents Columbell and Larry Monroe also falsified Knowlton’s testimony, saying that the car that he saw in Fort Marcy Park was Foster’s. After Knowlton had been subpoenaed to testify before the Whitewater grand jury but before he testified, he and his girlfriend were harassed on the streets of the capital by a number of extremely intimidating young men, and Knowlton filed a lawsuit over the matter. All of this was ignored by the American press, of course. The 20-page letter that Knowlton’s lawyer, John Clarke, submitted to Starr and the 3-judge panel that appointed Starr ordered him to include as an appendix to his official report on Foster’s death, a letter that demolishes Starr’s suicide conclusion, was ignored by the press, as well.
Miguel Rodriguez, Ken Starr’s Alter Ego
The names of Knowlton, Clarke, Columbell, and Monroe don’t come up in Starr’s book. They don’t fit his narrative. We were surprised to find that another really big name that doesn’t fit the narrative, the aforementioned Miguel Rodriguez, is there, however. We are also quite sure that the mention of Rodriguez is a surprise to the typical readers of Starr’s book, but for a quite different reason. Thanks to the American press’s blackout of the rather stupendous news that Starr’s first chosen lead investigator had actually demonstrated the integrity and courage to resign rather than to participate in what he had come to believe was a murder cover-up, this is likely the first time they would have encountered his name.
Perhaps Starr felt that too many people had learned through sources like reporter Christopher Ruddy’s 1997 book, The Strange Death of Vincent Foster, about the Rodriguez episode that he couldn’t give it the blackout treatment he gave to so much else, like to Knowlton or to the checkered history of James Beyer, the autopsy doctor in the case, who described a half-dollar sized exit wound in the back of Foster’s head that none of the witnesses at the park saw and checked the “X-rays taken” box on his autopsy chart, but later claimed that he had taken no X-rays because his X-ray machine was not functioning.
In mentioning Rodriguez, of course, Starr has to trash him:
Miguel began bringing witnesses before a Washington grand jury, but raised eyebrows by his accusatory questioning of U.S. Park Police officers and other witnesses. He seemed to believe—before hearing all the evidence—that Foster had been murdered in a different location, then dumped at Fort Marcy Park. This was the stuff of the conspiracy theories that flourished immediately after the reports of Foster’s death. We were after the truth and only the truth, yet there was no justification for browbeating or mistreating any grand jury witness. (p. 142)
Perhaps Rodriguez asked Park Police investigator Cheryl Braun how they made the determination that the death was a suicide even before they looked at the body, as she testified before the Senate Whitewater Committee. And as for that anti-browbeating policy, that would come as big news to Patrick Knowlton. Rodriguez’s successor, Brett Kavanaugh, in attempting to paint Knowlton as a cruising homosexual at the park before the grand jurors and thereby discredit him, asked him if the one other person he had seen in the parking lot had touched Knowlton’s genitals.
Starr’s mention of Rodriguez is really a step too far for him to take with any open-minded reader willing simply to avail himself of the resources available through the Internet. He doesn’t even need to consult Ruddy’s book or that of the British reporter, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Untold Stories or my recent The Murder of Vince Foster: America’s Would-Be Dreyfus Affair. All one need do is to use any search engine you choose and search “Miguel Rodriguez resignation letter” and to follow the leads that come up.
What you will discover, Starr’s assertions notwithstanding, is that Rodriguez had uncovered an abundance of evidence calling the suicide conclusion into question, and, equally importantly, you will discover that none of the sources discussing Rodriguez is what you would call mainstream media. America’s mainstream media, including the “conservative media,” reported nothing about his resignation at the time that it happened, and when his resignation letter was discovered some years later by Hugh Turley in the National Archives and reported by this writer on his web site, they blacked that news out, as well. That’s why the typical reader of Starr’s book would have never heard of the man until he reached Chapter 15, only to be treated to a well-nigh slanderous description of Miguel Rodriguez, who had proved himself to be the sort of person that Ken Starr has made a career, most recently as a paid commentator on Fox News, pretending to be.