- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003


The Supreme Court was told yesterday that it would be ghoulish to force the government to release decade-old photos of the body of a White House attorney who investigators say killed himself.

If the court demands the release of the 10 pictures of Vincent Foster, it would set precedent for the Internet posting of autopsy photographs of U.S. soldiers killed overseas and public access to other private records, a Bush administration attorney argued.

Attorney Patricia Millett said government files are packed with sensitive and personal information, and that an open-records law requires “not maximum disclosure, but responsible disclosure.”

The government and Mr. Foster’s relatives are fighting the release of the photographs. They are being sought by a California lawyer, who suspects Mr. Foster was murdered.

“It’s been 10 years. It’s time to give this family some peace,” the Fosters’ attorney, James Hamilton, told the justices.

Mr. Foster, 48, was found dead of a gunshot to the head in Fort Marcy Park in Fairfax County in 1993. The longtime friend of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton was handling several personal legal matters for them at the time, including their investment in the Whitewater real-estate venture.

Mr. Foster’s widow, Lisa, has said he was severely depressed and afraid that seeking treatment could jeopardize his career.

The Supreme Court is weighing the family’s privacy interest and the public’s right to the information under the open records law known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The court’s intervention brings fresh attention to conspiracy theories that Mr. Foster’s death was part of a White House cover-up.

Allan Favish, the lawyer who sought the information, said it was clear that officials made mistakes in declaring the death a suicide.

“I think the government can no longer be trusted to filter the raw evidence to the public in this case,” he said during yesterday’s argument before the court.

The court’s ruling, expected before next summer, will determine how much information the government can keep off-limits because of privacy concerns. Many of the justices said they were concerned about potential harm to family members.

The Bush administration told the court in a filing that thousands of pages of reports about Mr. Foster’s death and more than 100 photographs already have been released, and five government investigations unanimously concluded that his death was a suicide.

Mr. Favish said he believes that 10 photographs taken when Mr. Foster’s body was discovered could reveal evidence that points to murder. He already has reviewed the photographs that have been released, and some are posted on his Web site.

Mr. Favish, 48, said he has spent $5,000 of his own money pursuing the photos.

“I’m just a citizen who’s very concerned about the integrity of the nation’s law enforcement agencies,” he said. “The dominant media totally dropped the ball on this case.”

He is specifically interested in seeing patterns of blood at the scene and a possible bullet hole in Mr. Foster’s neck. That hole was reported by one of the first paramedics on the scene, an observation that conflicts with official reports of a single shot fired into the mouth.

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