Guest article by Hugh Turley
The headquarters of the conservative Heritage Foundation is located on the edge of Capitol Hill a block east of Union Station. I have attended quite a few functions there in their main auditorium to hear interesting speakers. They serve refreshments in a little anteroom where one can socialize with other attendees, often including the guest speaker. In this instance in the first week of March 1996, the speaker was the influential editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, William Kristol. I don’t recall his topic. I had been working with Patrick Knowlton, the key witness in the matter of the July 20, 1993, mysterious death of Vincent Foster, the deputy White House counsel in president Bill Clinton’s administration, and with Knowlton’s lawyer, John Clarke. At the after-speech refreshments, I sidled over to Kristol and told him that I’d like to talk to him about Patrick Knowlton. I don’t think the name rang any sort of a bell with him, so complete had the news blackout been about Knowlton’s story. Kristol told me that he didn’t have the time just then, but he would be glad to talk to me later. That was all the invitation I needed.
A few days later, on Friday, March 8, I showed up at his office with Clarke in tow. I introduced Clarke to the receptionist and told her that I had met Bill Kristol at the Heritage Foundation and that he wanted to talk to us. I don’t think Kristol quite realized who we were, and he invited us into his office. He came around from his desk and sat with us at a small round table with Clarke and me on either side of him. I remember he wore a white shirt with suspenders.
I introduced him to John and reminded him that we had met at the Heritage Foundation. Then we proceeded to tell him Knowlton’s story. Knowlton had finished work on a construction project on that Tuesday afternoon in July 1993 and had headed out from his Foggy Bottom apartment in DC to his mountain cabin in Etlan, VA. Carpool requirements were in effect on I-66 during afternoon rush hour inside the Washington beltway, so, as a solo occupant of his car, he could not take the most direct route inside the beltway and had to take the George Washington Parkway instead to reach the beltway and pick up I-66 from there. Typical of DC rush hour traffic, it was going at a snail’s pace, and it dawned on him that he needed to take a leak. Just after the GW Parkway passes the two scenic pull-offs on the cliffs over the Potomac River, it bends away from the river and there’s a sign for Fort Marcy Park. It’s a relic left over from the Civil War, and usually there’s no one there, especially on a weekday. It has no facilities, but it has lots of trees. Patrick could take care of business there and he wouldn’t need to go again before he reached his destination. As it turned out, Fort Marcy Park was where Vince Foster’s body was found a couple of hours afterward, lying in the back of the park.
We told Kristol that Knowlton had been completely ignored by the American press, but that he had been interviewed at length by the Washington correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph of London, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who had done a good job of telling his story in his newspaper. In 1997, Evans-Pritchard would do an even better job of describing what happened next, essentially the same as what we told Kristol, but here’s Evans-Pritchard’s version from his book:
There was an old brown Honda on the left, with Arkansas plates. He pulled in to the next space but one. A little further down was a newer blue car, Japanese make by the look of it, facing out into the lot. A man with a manicured appearance wearing a button-down Oxford shirt was sitting in the driver’s seat, watching.
The man lowered his window just far enough to glower at Patrick. He had short cropped hair and Hispanic-looking features, although he could have been Middle Eastern. Dark, anyway, and in his late twenties. Patrick did not like the look of him.
“I was worried about getting mugged, so I left my wallet under the seat, just in case.” He probably should have driven off straight away, but his knees were knocking by now. He had to find a tree.
“As I got out I heard his car door open and I thought, ‘Oh shit, this is it, the guy’s coming after me.’ But he just stood there, leaning over the roof of the car, watching.”
Patrick walked up toward the park. Instead of going into the Fort Marcy proper, he took the logging trail to the left where the nearest trees were. That was a fortunate decision. Patrick dreads to think what would have happened if he had walked into the main body of the park.
“When I came back I looked at him and I thought ‘Something is going to happen to me unless I get the hell out of here.’”
As an extra precaution on the way down he skirted the far side of the brown Honda. That’s when he noticed a jacket draped over the back of the driver’s seat, which appeared to be pulled forward. On the passenger seat was a soft leather briefcase. “I remember thinking, these people must be real stupid to leave a briefcase like that in plain view on the front passenger seat.”
The next night Knowlton was watching the evening news at his mountain cabin when he heard that Vincent Foster’s body had been found in Fort Marcy Park on the afternoon of July 20. “That’s when I thought, ‘Holy shit.’ I couldn’t sleep thinking about it.”
His girlfriend, Kathryn, told him it was his civic duty to call the police. So he did. It was after midnight. The woman on duty at the Park Police was incredibly rude. They got nowhere. The next morning at about 7:30 AM he called the Park Police again to speak to a detective. He spoke to officer John Rolla, who was friendly enough, but did not seem to think that Patrick’s story was very important. There was no follow-up. The Park Police never sent a detective to interview him. That was it. (The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories, pp. 160-161)
Knowlton then put the matter out of his mind. But nine months later he was contacted by two FBI agents working for Special Prosecutor Robert Fiske. They interviewed him at length, with a big hang-up on a very key point. They showed Knowlton a light blue to gray Honda Accord with Arkansas license plate number RCN-504 and wanted him to identify it as the car he saw parked at Fort Marcy. Knowlton insisted that the Honda Accord he had seen was several years older and it was brown, almost a reddish brown. He was almost as certain that it had a different license plate number. The car Knowlton was driving at the time was a Peugeot 504, and he thought the coincidence of the plate number would have made an impression upon him. He stuck adamantly to his story that the car he had seen was not the one they were showing him. He also said that he was certain that he could identify the swarthy young man who had eyed him so menacingly. Fear had seared the image of the man’s face into his brain.
A month later, the two FBI agents came back for another interview. The night before that interview, an unfortunate incident occurred involving that Peugeot. Patrick had parked it on the curb of Constitution Avenue near the Vietnam War Memorial, which is not far from his apartment. He recalls that a car that had followed him for a few blocks had parked behind him. A retired police captain had witnessed the driver of that other car get out and smash out the headlights of Knowlton’s Peugeot. The witness took down the Illinois license plate number of the Oldsmobile that the vandalizer was driving and turned it over to the Park Police, who, by proximity to the Memorial, coincidentally had responsibility for investigating the crime. They claimed to Knowlton that they were unable to locate the man to whom the license plate tracked. Later, after he had established contact with Knowlton and heard his story, the reporter Evans-Pritchard was able to locate the Oldsmobile owner quite easily, he says. The man was living in Hagerstown, Maryland, at the time. Evans-Pritchard learned from him that the actual driver of the car at the time and the likely perpetrator was the man’s brother-in-law who worked at the Pentagon whose personnel file indicated ties to the FBI. He also discovered that the man’s security clearance was the highest that can be granted, above even Top Secret.
The man even confessed to the crime, but, hardly surprisingly, the U.S. attorney declined to press charges, dismissing the matter as “just a dispute over a parking space.”
The disappointing denouement over that incident would occur after Knowlton would suffer far worse intimidation, however. Reading the official investigation reports on Foster’s death Evans-Pritchard had discovered the name of the Fort Marcy Park witness, “Patrick Nolton,” along with a Washington, D.C., telephone number. No one at that number, that of a doctor’s clinic, Evans-Pritchard surmised, knew anyone by that name, nor was Evans-Pritchard able to find anyone in the city by that name. Undeterred, he went to the tiny community of Etlan where Knowlton had his cabin and asked around. That’s when he found out that this “Nolton” guy was really Patrick “Knowlton.”
He sought out Knowlton and interviewed him, showing him his FBI-302s (the interview reports) in the process. Unable to get Knowlton to change his story, the agents had changed it for him. They had him confirming that he had seen Foster’s car there parked at Fort Marcy Park and quoted him saying that he probably wouldn’t be able to identify the other person he had seen there that day. Knowlton was understandably incensed at the revelation.
Evans-Pritchard wrote it all up for The Sunday Telegraph in a story that was published on October 22, 1995. To nail down Knowlton’s claim that he could easily identify the man, the news piece featured a police-style artist’s rendering of the guy based upon Knowlton’s description. The article noted, as well, that Knowlton had not been called before the Whitewater grand jury that had been convened by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
Four days later, Starr rectified that situation by issuing Knowlton a subpoena to appear before the grand jury. Then things began to get really scary for Knowlton and Kathryn. On consecutive evenings they were approached on the streets of Washington by young men who stared coldly into their faces, followed them only a step or two behind them, or even brushed up against them. Clarke and I told Kristol all about it. A good short listing of the key ingredients of Knowlton’s statement about it that the federal three-judge panel ordered to be included with Starr’s final report of Foster’s death can be found on the Progressive Review web site:
Beginning the same day [FBI] Agent [Russell] Bransford served Mr. Knowlton the secret grand jury subpoena, he was harassed by at least 25 men and Agent Bransford prior to testifying before the grand jury, and one man after testifying:
(a) Eleven or more men on October 26, 1995;
(b) Twelve or more men on October 27, 1995;
(c) Two or more men on October 28, 1995;
(d) FBI Agent Bransford on October 30, 1995; and
(e) One man on November 2, 1995.
The objects of the harassment were twofold, to:
(a) Intimidate and warn Mr. Knowlton in connection with his grand jury testimony; and failing that,
(b) Destabilize Mr. Knowlton and discredit his testimony before the grand jury.
Richard Poe in his 2004 book, Hillary’s Secret War: The Conspiracy to Muzzle Internet Journalists, has a good thumbnail summary of the use to which the harassment was put:
No one knows who ordered the harassment team to begin its operation against Patrick Knowlton on October 26, 1995. However, someone close to the Starr investigation must have tipped them off that Knowlton had received a subpoena.
Throughout Knowlton’s ordeal, Starr’s team treated the beleaguered witness with extraordinary contempt.
When the street harassment began, Knowlton called the FBI and requested witness protection. Nothing happened for two days. Finally, Agent Russell Bransford–the same FBI agent who had delivered Starr’s subpoena–showed up. “He had this smirk on his face, as if he thought the whole thing was amusing,” says Knowlton. “I told him to get the hell out of my house.”
At the same time Knowlton was calling the FBI, [reporter Christopher] Ruddy and Evans-Pritchard called Deputy Independent Counsel John Bates to report the intimidation of a grand jury witness. Bates’s secretary jotted down some notes. “An hour later I called again,” says Evans-Pritchard. “She let out an audible laugh and said that her boss had received the message…Bates never called back.
What did Starr’s people find so funny about the situation?
As a last resort, Knowlton prepared a “Report of Witness Tampering” and took it personally to the Office of the Independent Counsel. “It was their responsibility, at the very least, to find out who leaked word of his subpoena,” notes Evans-Pritchard. According to Evans-Pritchard, John Bates responded by calling security and having Knowlton removed from the building.
Perhaps the most telling indication of Starr’s attitude toward Knowlton is the humiliating cross-examination to which this brave man was subjected before the grand jury. Knowlton says that he was “treated like a suspect.” Prosecutor Brett Kavanaugh appeared to be trying to imply that Knowlton was a homosexual who was cruising Fort Marcy Park for sex. Regarding the suspicious Hispanic-looking man he had seen guarding the park entrance, Kavanaugh asked, “Did he ‘pass you a note?’ Did he ‘touch your genitals?’”
Knowlton flew into a rage at Kavanaugh’s insinuations. Evans-Pritchard writes that several African American jurors burst into laughter at the spectacle, rocking “back and forth as if they were at a Baptist revival meeting. Kavanaugh was unable to reassert his authority. The grand jury was laughing at him. The proceedings were out of control.”
It was at that point, reports Evans-Pritchard, that Patrick Knowlton was finally compelled to confront the obvious: “the Office of the Independent Counsel was itself corrupt.” pp. 106-107
Clarke and I managed to impart most of that information to Kristol there in his office as he sat impassively. One can get the full flavor of Knowlton’s experience by listening to him tell his story in the video, “The Vince Foster Cover-Up: The FBI and the Press.”
“Amazing,” responded Kristol. He had been listening for some 45 minutes, and those were the first words he spoke. “What kind of work does Mr. Knowlton do?” That was all he said. That was the end of the meeting. I think he also added some small talk like, “Thank you for coming,” or that he had something to do. But the meeting was over, and John and I left.
Although Kristol had seemed to be very much impressed with Knowlton’s story, as far as any publicity about what he heard from us is concerned, the meeting might as well have never taken place. He did not assign a reporter to delve more deeply into what we had told him, to check our facts. Neither did he or anyone else at The Weekly Standard write anything about it. Nothing of note, in fact, appeared afterward in the magazine until Byron York reacted to the release of Starr’s report with an article entitled “Vince Foster, in the Park, with the Gun,” on October 27, 1997. In that article, York wrote, “[C]onspiracy theorists… have already begun to complain about Starr’s treatment of Patrick Knowlton, a motorist who says that on July 20 he stopped in Fort Marcy to relieve himself and saw a man in a car who stared at him menacingly… But Starr found no other evidence to support Knowlton’s story, and the report mentions the incident only briefly.”
That was it. Consider the fact that everything had to go out with the editor, Kristol’s, approval.
Then it got worse. On November 24, 1997, The Weekly Standard published a review of the Evans-Pritchard book from which I quoted above entitled, “The Secret Life of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.” The reviewer was the Washington Post reporter who probably did more than any other person to sell the suicide story to the public from the very beginning, Michael Isikoff. Here are some selections:
Evans-Pritchard’s work, such as it is, consists of little more than wild flights of conspiratorial fancy coupled with outrageous and wholly uncorroborated allegations offered up by his “sources” – largely a collection of oddballs… and borderline psychotics.
* * *
Back in Washington, Evans-Pritchard breaks one of his big stories: Patrick Knowlton, a construction worker who stopped to urinate at Fort Marcy Park on the afternoon of Vince Foster’s death and—here’s the key part—recalls seeing a mysterious “Hispanic-looking” man lingering around the parking lot. No sooner has Evans-Pritchard popped this bombshell in the Telegraph than, Knowlton reports, menacing-looking men in business suits begin following him and staring really hard at him…
* * *
But for the moment I prefer my own conspiracy theory: Evans-Pritchard doesn’t believe a word he has written… designed to discredit critics of the Clinton White House by making them look like a bunch of blithering idiots.
I can say with some certainty, based upon what John Clarke and I had told him and his reaction to it, Bill Kristol did not believe a word of what Isikoff wrote there in his late unlamented magazine. That did not stop him from approving it, though.
In 2019, when his perennially money-gushing little magazine was finally put to rest, Davidson College, Vince Foster’s alma mater–and mine, too–came to Kristol’s rescue and hired him to be a visiting Professor of Ethics. Read more about the Foster death case in my newly published book, The Murder of Vince Foster: America’s Would-Be Dreyfus Affair. – David Martin.