Timing of Lab Tests on Foster Gun Defended
MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Feb. 04, 1994
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Laboratory tests on the gun found in the hand of a slain White House lawyer were not completed until after the U.S. Park Police ruled the death a suicide, but police said Friday that sequence was not unusual.
It was learned that the Park Police orally asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms about getting a laboratory examination of the gun during the week after deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster was found dead July 20.
However, a formal letter requesting tests of the Colt .38 special, six-shot revolver and an analysis of gunpowder residue on Foster's white shirt was dated Aug. 12.
Two days earlier, Park Police Chief Robert E. Langston had told a news conference that evidence from the suburban Virginia park where Foster's body was found and interviews with Foster's friends who said he was depressed led to the suicide conclusion.
''We reached that conclusion based on the other evidence we had, and that evidence was pretty strong'' said Maj. Robert Hines of the Park Police. ''When the evidence is strong, it's not unusual to make arrests in a homicide before sending stuff to the lab to get the tests you need for a court conviction.
''If we couldn't have reached a conclusion and the gun tests might have resolved the case, then the timetable would have been different,'' Hines said.
The ATF tests, including the powder residue pattern on Foster's shirt, were consistent with the conclusion that Foster committed suicide, it was learned. They conformed to Park Police photo evidence of powder residue on Foster's hand and to a trigger indentation in his thumb.
Privately, several officials of other law enforcement agencies, requesting anonymity, said they were not surprised a conclusion was reached, and even publicly announced, before tests were completed; they cited similar cases of their own when physical and other evidence was strong.
Hines said it took nearly a month to send the gun for lab work ''probably just because of workload. We'd like to do it faster, but we're not a large agency.''
He said tests were done even after a conclusion had been reached, because ''we normally run those. It's just one of the little things you do.''
Hines also said the Park Police report on Foster did not conclude that White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum interfered with investigators. ''We reported what we saw; we didn't draw conclusions,'' Hines said. ''Some people who read the report may have drawn their own conclusions.''
Citing officials who have seen the still-unreleased report, The New York Times said it ''shows that Mr. Nussbaum interfered with interviews of witnesses by directing that other White House lawyers sit in on them.''
''We mentioned that White House attorneys sat in on them,'' Hines said, ''But our report didn't say that made them less candid. It didn't bother us. That happens a lot in our work - that lawyers sit in on interviews.''
The Times quoted Nussbaum as saying Park Police did not complain at the time. Nussbaum did not respond to a message left with his office Friday.
According to The Times, the Park Police report said an investigator saw Nussbaum look into Foster's briefcase on July 22 even though the White House has said a torn-up, morose note by Foster was not found in it until July 26. Of that, Hines would say only, ''Had we searched the briefcase and had the note been in there, we would have found it.''
Asked Friday if President Clinton still has complete confidence in Nussbaum, White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers replied, ''Absolutely.''