Loading...
Print this page
Tuesday, 14 January 2020 00:12

Vince Foster, JFK and the Rise of Chris Ruddy

Written by

The irony of Newsmax posting an article entitled “Conspiracy Theories Merit Only Undivided Suspicion” is “too rich to be ignored,” writes Jim DiEugenio, because its CEO and founder, Chris Ruddy, was responsible for propagating one of the wildest and most rudderless conspiracy theories of recent decades: that Vince Foster was murdered by sinister forces employed by Bill and Hillary Clinton.


One of the most nauseating characteristics of the New Right is its hypocrisy. For instance, the GOP has historically been the party of sound money and banking. Yet, in their devotion to supply-side/trickle-down economics, it was their party which ran up the national debt to heights no Democrat ever dreamed of doing. And it was a Republican administration which oversaw the worst banking/real estate crisis and economic downturn since 1929. Another example: for all of their pontificating about religion and family values, most of the GOP evangelist preachers endorse a president who had to pay off two former girlfriends to keep quiet during his election campaign.

Which brings us to the subject of this article. On December 17th, a week before Christmas, a man named Paul F. deLespinasse wrote an article for the conservative website Newsmax. It was titled: “Conspiracy Theories Merit Only Undivided Suspicion”. Mr. deLespinasse began by saying that such theories are meant to confuse the public, “often for political purposes.” As most conservative shills do, he tried to belittle this kind of thinking with a ludicrous example. He said that Nicholas II of Russia faked his overthrow and ruled from the back room. Obviously, he concedes, he made that up out of whole cloth. But the author said since it made sense to his students, he went on and “concocted new conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.” He goes on to mention two truly ridiculous ones about the JFK case. The first was that Joe Kennedy wanted to have Jackie killed so she would not divorce his son while in office. So the father hired Lee Oswald, but Oswald missed. He then writes, well maybe JFK learned that his medical problems would kill him within months. Therefore he staged his own assassination to become a martyr in order to increase the chance his brothers would follow him into office. (In both of these examples, it is still Oswald as the killer.)

As was his intention, the author then goes on to ridicule any and all other kinds of alternate ways of thinking about certain momentous events: the 9-11 attacks, Pearl Harbor, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the idea that America never went to the moon. Note the way he has deliberately mixed in events of genuine interest and scholarship with those that amount to piffling: JFK and the moon landings, for instance. Consequently, he concludes that the best way to remain of sound mind is just to ignore “conspiracy theories and regard their propagators as probable cranks.” Which, of course, is what the Power Elite would like the general public to think, so they can continue on their rampage, killing whatever hopes we have of recovering our democratic processes.

The reason I mention this piece of claptrap is because it was run in Newsmax. For anyone who knows something about that business entity, the irony of the posting of this article is too rich to be ignored. It underscores the hypocrisy I just pointed out. How so? Because the CEO and founder of Newsmax is Chris Ruddy. And Newsmax would not exist if not for Ruddy’s propagation of one of the wildest and most rudderless conspiracy theories of recent decades––namely, that Vince Foster was murdered by sinister forces employed by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Why would the Clintons murder their close friend and legal colleague? Well, for any number of reasons. These would include that he was having an affair with Hillary Clinton or he was about to give away the secrets of the Whitewater scandal to Congress. But since there were no secrets to that manufactured scandal, then it must have been the first reason. Even though there was no credible evidence of that either. Note that deLespinasse did not mention the Foster case in his long listing, probably because he was aware that it was Ruddy’s hand that was feeding him.


II

Vince Foster was a legal and political colleague of Bill and Hillary Clinton in Arkansas. He worked with her there at the Rose Law Firm. By all accounts, he was an effective and successful lawyer. After the 1992 presidential election, the Clintons invited Foster to move to Washington and work for the Clinton administration. He did so, and this turned out to be a serious mistake on his part. Foster was a sensitive soul who was not cut out for what author James Stewart later termed the “blood sport” of Washington DC during the Clinton years.

It is important to recall an ignored historical milestone at this point. Late in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the Republicans had managed to achieve one of their longtime goals. They negated the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time provisions of FCC law. This was quickly followed by ABC moving Rush Limbaugh from Sacramento to New York and channeling him nationwide. Rupert Murdoch had now become an American citizen. His purchase of Metromedia TV and a share of 20th Century Fox around this time would be the kernel that would launch Fox TV. In other words, what David Brock termed “The Republican Noise Machine”—a huge propaganda network––was now in place, well-positioned to amplify and aggrandize the so-called Clinton Scandals.

The first two out of the box were the Travel Office affair and the Whitewater real estate imbroglio. Foster worked as Deputy White House counsel. He was involved in the first, and tangentially in the second––which was even more of a pseudo-scandal than the first. Foster was also involved in vetting candidates for positions in the administration; for example, the Nannygate episode over the nomination of Zoe Baird for attorney general. Because of the controversy over these instances, in June and July of 1993 Foster came under political attack in the Wall Street Journal. By several different accounts, Foster was now suffering from depression and anxiety over these attacks. (Dan Moldea, A Washington Tragedy, pp. 203-12). His sister recommended he see a psychiatrist, and he called one to set up an appointment. In the meantime, his personal doctor gave him prescriptions for anti-depressants. Foster was so distraught that he thought of leaving Washington and going back to Little Rock. But he felt that this would be admitting defeat. (Moldea, p. 215). On July 20, 1993 Foster shot himself at Fort Marcy Park in Virginia with a handgun given to him by his father many years previous.

The first investigation of his death was submitted by the U.S. Park Police on August 10, 1993. The police had been supplemented by the FBI and Justice Department. Relying on that investigation and the medical examiner’s findings, they concluded that Foster had taken his own life. But now something absolutely remarkable began to occur. And for this author, it was the first manifestation of the awesome power of the advancing rightwing media.

To fully understand the spectacle, worthy of the Roman Colosseum, that was about to be unleashed on the national stage, one needs to outline the metamorphosis that the Republican Party had undergone. To do that, one must delve into a brief––but appropriate––historical synopsis.


III

Prior to the election of 1960, the two leaders of the Republican Party had been Senator Robert Taft and President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1952, those two had fought a close and bitter battle all the way to the convention for the Republican nomination for president. It was only through a questionable ploy at the convention that Eisenhower managed to win the nomination.

There are two points that should be drawn about these men in order to understand the subject at hand. First, Taft was a non-interventionist in foreign policy, to the extent that he was opposed to American involvement in World War II, the Nuremburg Trials and the formation of NATO. Second, Eisenhower more than once said that he was not about to repeal FDR’s New Deal. When Eisenhower left office after eight years, the income tax rate was 91 per cent for the highest income earners.

One last point needs to be made in order to delineate the dichotomy that was to come. Around this time—early to middle sixties––there was actually a moderate wing to the Republican Party. People like Senator Mark Hatfield, Governor George Romney, Senator Charles Percy, Senator Jacob Javits, Governor Raymond Shafer, Senator Charles Mathias, Governor William Scranton, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Congressman Pete McCloskey, these and others constituted a minority, but an influential one, within the GOP. As many have noted, what began to alter the Republican Party, and eventually made its moderate wing extinct, was the Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964. That nomination brought to the forefront the extreme rightwing elements of the party—the John Birch Society types—who declared war on the moderate elements in the party. Although the Goldwater forces lost, they succeeded in establishing a beachhead in the GOP. Senator Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was against the high taxation rate, and felt President Johnson was soft on communism. He became the first Republican nominee to consciously run on a Southern Strategy, one which was designed to break up the Democratic majority in the south by employing racist symbology. That strategy, plus the fact that Goldwater was from Arizona, began to rebuild the Republican party on a Southern/Western axis.

This included California Governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan made a last-minute televised appeal for Goldwater in 1964. And that appeal first put him on the national political map. At that time, the highest political office Reagan had attained was president of the Screen Actors Guild.

It was not just Reagan who supported Goldwater; it was also William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley’s Young Americans For Freedom supplied the shock troops for the Goldwater campaign. Goldwater was trounced, but Buckley and Reagan now started to pull the Republican party to the far right. In a blatant effort to exterminate them, Buckley began to defame and run against those from the moderate wing of the party: for instance, Charles Goodell and John Lindsay. The very threat of a Reagan run in 1976 provoked President Gerald Ford to perform the Halloween Massacre. That panic-stricken move, for all intents and purposes empowered the neoconservative movement and triggered the rise of Dick Cheney.

Once Reagan won the White House in 1980, he began to meet with representatives of the Religious Right in order to incorporate them into the GOP. But as writers like Sidney Blumenthal have noted, this was really a kind of flirtation that never made it to the altar. Reagan never gave people like Jerry Falwell what they really wanted, things like prayer in school or a bill banning abortion. But allowing them tea time was enough incentive to make them attack dogs against the Democratic Party. They therefore were useful politically. (Salon, 10/24/15, article by Neil J. Young.)

Because of all this, by the nineties, the Republican Party had undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Its philosophy had become the antithesis of Taft’s non-interventionism. The GOP now went looking for wars, such as against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Reagan assailed the War on Poverty by saying that the result of it was that poverty had won. This kind of talk eventually allowed his acolytes like Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan to begin the effort to privatize Social Security. Reagan had called Medicare “socialism”. His success allowed the new GOP to do what Eisenhower said he would not: assault the New Deal. (LA Times, 12/8/2017, article by Michael Hiltzik) With the cooperation of Bill Clinton, they almost succeeded at this. (See US News and World Report, 5/29/2008, “The Pact Between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich”)

The new Republican Party had cultivated a more reactionary base. Through Limbaugh-led talk radio, and people like Falwell, it traded on social conservatism, Christian fundamentalism, so-called family values, xenophobia, veiled racism and hostility toward immigrants (the anchor baby syndrome). The new GOP had no problem in depriving minority groups of their right to vote by scrubbing election rolls, which gave George W. Bush his win over Al Gore in the 2000 election heist in Florida. All of this was amplified and channeled into the Limbaugh/Fox sound machine. It was designed to appeal to what many have called “the angry white man vote.” This propaganda formula was so powerful that it managed to convince millions of working-class Americans that their interests coincided with those of billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife and later the Koch brothers.


IV

The staggering force of this new apparatus broke dramatically into the open during the rightwing war against Bill Clinton.

After the first verdict in the Foster case was rendered by the Park Police, unfounded rumors now began to circulate, like the claim Foster’s body had been moved while wrapped in a carpet and there was no exit wound, even though Foster had shot himself through the mouth. As we shall see, these were both false. In fact, the autopsy report described the exit wound at the rear of the skull. But at that time, Richard Mellon Scaife was also in the process of forming the so-called Arkansas Project—hiring people to dig up dirt on the Clintons from their Arkansas days—through the conservative magazine American Spectator, and Limbaugh was now pushing that journal on his radio show. The Foster case and Whitewater were an early instance of the powerful rightwing propaganda outlets bleeding over into the mainstream media. The first book on the Foster case was published in February of 1994, entitled, The Murder of Vince Foster. It concluded that the Clintons had Foster killed. (Moldea, p. 286)

More importantly, Chris Ruddy was about to leave Murdoch’s New York Post, where he had already written some stories on the Foster case, for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. That newspaper was owned by Scaife. With the creator of the Arkansas Project now his boss, Ruddy had free reign to go after the Clintons and the Foster case. After 12 years of Republicans in the White House, the conservative media barons were intent on bringing down the new Democratic president––and it did not matter how they did it. The incessant work of people like Ruddy resulted in enough buzz for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a respected Republican lawyer named Robert Fiske to helm that inquiry. Opening an office in Little Rock, Fiske employed 15 lawyers and 25 FBI agents. (New York Times, “Muddy Water”, March 24, 1996) After a careful inquiry, during which he interviewed 125 people, Fiske concluded that the Clintons had not wielded undue influence in the Whitewater matter and that the original police inquiry was correct about Vince Foster’s death.

On the day that Fiske issued his report, President Clinton signed the reauthorization of the Independent Counsel law, with the difference that instead of being chosen by the Attorney General, a special prosecutor would now be picked by a panel of federal judges. The panel was led by Judge David Sentelle. Sentelle was elevated to the federal court upon the request of Senator Jesse Helms. Under the influence of Helms, Ronald Reagan duly appointed Sentelle in 1985. Reno requested Fiske be reappointed. Under the influence of Helms and fellow reactionary senator Lauch Faircloth, Sentelle and his two cohorts declined to do so. (Washington Post, 8/12/94, article by Howard Schneider). In August of 1994, they replaced Fiske with the even more conservative Ken Starr.

The Foster case was one of the most bizarre and, at the same time, most assiduous instances of a national political paroxysm this writer can remember. The entire effort to manufacture the case was backed by the late Jerry Falwell, the late billionaire Scaife, with people like reporter Ruddy and west coast political hatchet-man Pat Matrisciana. Matrisciana produced the dubious videotape The Clinton Chronicles. That infamous video began the whole fairy tale about the “Clinton body count”. This quartet perfected a combination business/political model that rose to a grand scale, prefiguring the rise of Alex Jones. Falwell raised money for Matrisciana and Ruddy by selling their productions, which then helped produce more films. Scaife paid for the ad campaigns for Ruddy’s pamphlets on the Foster case. By 1997, Matrisciana and Ruddy had a shared bank account worth over 3 million dollars.

Some of this massive haul was spent on paying off “witnesses” to talk about the alleged crimes of the Clintons. In other words, it was checkbook journalism. This included signing up Arkansas State Troopers Roger Perry and Larry Patterson. Their contract was designed to pay them to make statements saying that Vince Foster had not died in Fort Marcy Park in Virginia. Foster had actually died in the White House parking lot. This concoction quickly collapsed when the person who was supposed to have made a phone call revealing this––White House aide Helen Dickey––testified and proved that she did not learn of Foster’s death until late in the evening, not in the afternoon, which was when Foster’s body was discovered. As reported by Robert Parry, Starr concluded that Dickey was telling the truth and the troopers were not. (The Consortium, March 30, 1998; see also New York Review of Books, August 8, 1996, reply by Gene Lyons to Ambrose Evans Pritchard)

Just how far would these deceptive practices go? During an infomercial, Falwell interviewed a witness in silhouetted background he labeled an investigative reporter. The mystery witness said that he knew his life was in danger because not one, but two insider witnesses had been killed before he got their stories. They both died in plane crashes. (Note, the idea of neutralized witnesses was apparently borrowed from the JFK case.) The silhouetted “investigative reporter” then asked: “Jerry, are these coincidences? I don’t think so.” It was later revealed by journalist Murray Waas that the mysterious investigative reporter was Matrisciana himself. When the scheme was later exposed, Matrisciana tried to blame the idea on Falwell. (See again Parry, cited above) With this in mind, again note the hypocrisy: the name of Matrisciana’s business outfit was Citizens for Honest Government.

What troubled me about this outbreak of rightwing profiteering designed to increase political dementia was this: When I once mentioned it in Probe Magazine, I got a letter saying that somehow I was wrong to belittle the efforts of Ruddy and Matrisciana. The author then equated the death of Vince Foster to what had happened to President Kennedy. And that somehow, the “cover-up” around Foster’s death equated to what the Warren Commission did to JFK’s murder. I was disheartened by the letter. If one of our readers could not tell the difference between the political flackery around Foster’s death and the real criminality and cover-up around President Kennedy’s demise, then I was not doing a very good job as a writer or researcher. Either that, or the forces arrayed against me were simply too awesome to contemplate.


V

At around this time (1994-95), another Scaife-funded journalistic entity, Western Journalism Center (WJC), began to issue pamphlets based on Ruddy’s writings on the Foster case. These were supported by full-page ads in numerous newspapers throughout the nation, including the Washington Times, Chicago Tribune and New York Times. This writer was given one of Ruddy’s WJC reports by a friend. I immediately began to note even further that the techniques Ruddy was using were reminiscent of what the early critics of the Warren Commission had done. Ruddy was questioning the forensic basis of the prior pronouncements on the case by trying to find errors, misstatements or inconsistencies in those judgments. For example, Ruddy said that, although Foster’s body was found with the gun in his right hand, Foster was actually left-handed. Like so many other Scaife-sponsored “facts”, this turned out to be false. (Sixty Minutes, October 8, 1995). But this did remind me of the strange circumstances in the death of Gary Underhill, one of the earliest witnesses to proclaim a conspiracy in the death of President Kennedy. (Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 100) So Ruddy seemed to be imitating the early Warren Commission critics. The problem as I saw it was that there was simply no comparison between the circumstances of the two cases—in any manner. And by 1995, two more judgments had been rendered on the Foster case. One by the Senate Banking Committee and one by Congressman Bill Clinger of the Government Operations Committee. Both concluded that the original police investigation was correct. What I found striking about this was Clinger was a Republican and the Senate investigation was completed under the co-leadership of the highly partisan Republican Al D’Amato. (Starr Report on Foster, Section 2, part C)

This point was rammed home when, once Starr replaced Fiske, Brett Kavanaugh found a way to reopen the Foster case. (See article by Charles Pierce, Esquire, August 3, 2018). As any objective observer can conclude, Ken Starr had a rather unethical reign as independent counsel. More plainly: Starr had an agenda. He also utilized questionable methods in order to fulfill that agenda. (For a rather harrowing look at those methods, see Susan McDougal’s book The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk.) Yet, in spite of this, Starr came to the same conclusion everyone else did. (Although he delayed announcing it for well over a year to keep the controversy brewing.) But he did employ the man who many consider to be the finest criminalist in America, Henry Lee. Lee is noted for his independence. He has bucked the establishment in the OJ Simpson case and the JFK case. Lee teamed up with two other experts, Dr. Brain Blackbourne and Dr. Alan Berman, to certify that Starr agreed with Fiske.

The beginning of Starr’s Report relies upon the work of two doctors: James Beyer and Donald Haut. Dr. Haut was at the crime scene and Dr. Beyer did the autopsy. Unlike with the JFK case, the doctors identified the wound path with no ambiguities. (Moldea, p. 30) And there was an alignment between the entrance and exit wounds. In other words, there was no impossible Single Bullet Theory to contend with. Nor, as with Kennedy’s head wound, did the bullet come in from one angle and then veer 90 degrees to the right for its exit. (Read it here)

The Office of Independent Counsel traced the purchase of the .38 handgun as far back as 1913. Henry Lee actually determined how Foster carried the weapon that day. Lee also detected blood stains on nearby vegetation. These investigators, along with the FBI lab, also determined where the carpet fibers on Foster’s clothes came from, which was Foster’s home in Washington and the White House. These two evidentiary conclusions effectively countered Ruddy’s suppositions that, first, the weapon was not traceable, and therefore was not Foster’s; second, that Foster was killed elsewhere––or took his own life elsewhere––and then his body was transported to the park; and third, contrary to what Fiske’s critics reported, that there was a considerable amount of blood at the Fort Marcy Park scene (Moldea, p. 203), thus neutralizing reports saying there was not very much there and consequently Foster must have been killed elsewhere. (See section 6 of the report, part B; see also Moldea, pp. 312-17)

The work of Henry Lee and forensic pathologist Brian Blackbourne was devastating to the likes of Ruddy and conservative media attack dog Reed Irvine. In addition to the above, Foster’s DNA was found on the barrel of the handgun. There was a bone chip on a nearby piece of brown paper, and through DNA testing it was proven that the chip was part of Foster’s skull. Contrary to another myth, Lee found that Foster’s shoes did contain soil materials and vegetative matter. (See again Moldea, cited above)

The findings by Lee and Blackbourne were so compelling that when Ruddy issued his book on the Foster case—The Strange Death of Vincent Foster—even critics of conservative orientation, like Byron York and Jacob Cohen, panned the book. The American Spectator, home of the Arkansas Project, also filed a negative review of Ruddy’s volume. (Moldea, p. 320). When Scaife heard about the latter, he pulled his funding for the magazine, which indicated what the whole sorry episode was really about. Because of that, the journal went into a financial tailspin and was later sold to George Gilder. (Washington Post, May 2, 1999, “Arkansas Project Led to Turmoil and Rifts”)

As the reader can see, the Foster case and Kennedy case are not at all forensically equivalent. Virtually every forensic aspect of the JFK case is genuinely susceptible to challenge. These are challenges that, when followed through on, prove the opposite of what the Warren Commission concluded; this is especially the case with the medical and ballistics evidence, including Oswald’s alleged possession of the rifle and handgun.

Neither was there any credible evidence that the Foster autopsy was obstructed by officials on the scene. Or that notes were burned and the autopsy was rewritten once or twice. In the JFK case, both David Mantik and Doug Horne have argued that the autopsy we have in the JFK case is likely the third version. (See Doug Horne, Inside the ARRB, Volume 3, pp. 851-878) And this change occurred the morning of Sunday the 24th, when Jack Ruby killed Oswald, a murder which guaranteed there would be no trial for the defendant. I won’t even detail the wholesale revisions made in the Kennedy autopsy by the Ramsey Clark Panel in 1968. But the record shows there has never been a true official forensic inquiry into the JFK case. What Arlen Specter and the Warren Commission did was pretty much a pathetic disgrace. The forensic examination by the House Select Committee on Assassinations was flawed beyond recognition by its use of the junk science of Thomas Canning and the late Vincent Guinn. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 76-82) On top of that, the HSCA concealed much of their evidence, and then misrepresented the evidence that was concealed. (Essay by Gary Aguilar in Trauma Room One, pp. 208-11) This is why, in the upcoming Oliver Stone documentary, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, the public will––for the first time, fifty-seven years after the fact––see a real forensic review of the evidence in the JFK case.


VI

I would like to close the crime detection part of this essay with a direct comparison of the findings of a so-called expert in forensics who participated in both the Foster and JFK cases. That man is the late Vincent Scalice. Like many who worked for the House Select Committee, Scalice came out of the New York City Police Department. He was hailed as a fingerprint expert.

As both Sylvia Meagher and Henry Hurt have noted, there was a timing problem with the discovery of Lee Harvey Oswald’s palmprint on the barrel of the Mannlicher Carcano rifle found at the Texas School Book Depository. On the night of the assassination, there was no print announced by the Dallas Police. (Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 124) Their identification expert, Carl Day, was supposed to have been working on the rifle at the time it was taken from the police and sent to the FBI. Vincent Drain was the FBI agent who picked up the rifle from Day that evening and shipped it to Washington. Drain told author Henry Hurt that no such print was pointed out to him by Day when he picked up the rifle on the evening of the assassination. (Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 109)

What makes Drain’s statement compelling is that when the rifle was examined by FBI expert Sebastian Latona, he said that there were no prints of value he could discern on the weapon. (Hurt, p. 107) Latona was probably the foremost authority on the subject at that time. In conversations with Chief of Homicide in New York, Robert Tanenbaum, he told this writer that every DA in America wanted Latona for his case, for the simple reason that his pamphlet on fingerprint analysis was used by most local police departments as an instruction guide.

What happened after Latona came up with a negative verdict on the prints shows why the Dallas Police Department was later exposed as the single most corrupt police force in the country. (James DiEugenio, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, pp. 196-98) After the rifle was returned to Dallas, DA Henry Wade announced that, presto, they now had a print on the rifle. What made the late arriving print even more suspect was this: After Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby on the 24th, his body was taken to Miller’s Funeral Home in Fort Worth. In 1978, agent Richard Harrison told Gary Mack that he had driven another agent to the funeral parlor with the alleged “Oswald rifle”. His understanding was that this other agent was to get a palm print off the corpse for “comparison purposes”. This makes no sense since Oswald had been fingerprinted three times while in detention. (Jim Marrs, Crossfire, 1989 edition, p. 444) The owner of the parlor, Paul Groody, later said it took a long time to remove all of the “black gook” from the hand of the corpse. And that convinced him the agents were there to retrieve a palm print. (Hurt, p. 107) When the Warren Commission wanted Day to sign an affidavit to the effect he had identified the print before the rifle was turned over to the FBI, Day refused to execute the document. (Marrs, p. 445) Because of these rather suspicious circumstances, no serious author on the JFK case believed the palmprint was legitimate.

Then, in 1991, a man named Rusty Livingston entered the scene. Livingston had worked for the Dallas Police, and his nephew Gary Savage later produced a book, called First Day Evidence, based on his uncle’s remembrances and souvenirs. Livingston claimed that, in addition to the palm print, there was a fingerprint Day developed on the trigger guard. He had pictures to prove such was the case. When the late Mike Sullivan of PBS heard about this, he and his crew—which included Gus Russo and Scott Malone––hurried to talk to Rusty and Gary. And this new evidence turned out to be the final sequence for their (quite flatulent) 1993 Frontline special entitled Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?

Savage had tried to get a confirmation that the trigger guard prints were Oswald’s from an examiner named Jerry Powdrill. Powdrill’s examination was quite weak; he only said he could match three points. This number is four times less than the usual standard in US courts, and five times less than in British courts. (Savage, p. 109)

Sullivan was undeterred. PBS then brought in a former FBI examiner, George Bonebrake. He said the prints were not clear enough for identification purposes. But that still did not discourage Sullivan and PBS. They now brought in Vincent Scalice. As Pat Speer notes in his fine article, “Un-smoking the Gun”, back in 1978, when working for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Scalice said these trigger guard pictures were not defined enough for identification purposes (Volume 8, p. 248). But now, Mr. Scalice determined the prints were Oswald’s. He explained this switch by saying that he now had more and better pictures to work from.

As Speer notes, Scalice and Savage were wrong about the new and better photos which allowed the new determination. After separating out blow-ups from originals, Speer determined that Scalice worked from all of two photos––not as PBS said, “a set”. Scalice was also wrong when he said he had only seen one photo of the trigger guard prints while with the HSCA. He had seen more than one while working for that committee. (HSCA Admin Folder M-3, pp. 5-6, at Mary Ferrell Foundation Archives.) PBS was also wrong when they said that the trigger guard prints had been ignored prior to 1993. They had been examined by the HSCA and the FBI. (See preceding link)

But as Speer points out, although the misrepresentations above were pretty bad, they were not the worst part of the dog and pony show that Sullivan and PBS had produced. Sullivan realized PBS had a problem with the FBI work on the rifle which occurred the very evening of the assassination. So when PBS presented the program for the 40th anniversary of Kennedy’s murder in 2003, they wrote the following piece of narration: “The FBI says it never looked at the Dallas police photographs of the fingerprints ….” This statement strongly implies that when Latona examined the rifle for the Warren Commission, he did not have the DPD photos.

Again, this is false. In his Warren Commission testimony, Latona is quite clear on this point. He states that he did examine photos of the trigger guard area that were sent by the Dallas Police. (WC Vol. IV, p. 21). And he went beyond that. He says that he examined the area with a magnifying glass. (WC Vol IV, p. 20). He then adds that he called in a photographer and took his own photos. He states that they tried everything, “highlighting, side-lighting, every type of lighting that we could conceivably think of ….” Latona also said that he then processed the entire rifle, to the point of dismantling the weapon and breaking down all its parts. He concluded that there were no prints of value on the rifle. (WC Vol IV, p. 23)

It’s one thing to make a mistake. We all do that. But when you state as fact the opposite of what happened, then the audience has a right to suspect that the producer of the program––in this case Mr. Sullivan––has an agenda. I simply do not believe that every person involved with this program had failed to read Latona’s sworn testimony. Not when this issue was the concluding segment of the show. They had to have read it. But they were so eager to pronounce Oswald guilty that they ignored it. They did not want to explain why the best fingerprint expert the FBI had––using every technique he could muster––could not find a print on the weapon while Oswald was alive; but the most corrupt police department in America did find it after he was dead. If the case had been presented that way, then the audience would have been thinking: “Where did Day’s prints come from?” And they would have been justified in asking that question. As they would have been in asking these questions: What the heck is PBS up to? Didn’t this used to be a reputable network? And also this one: Why is Scalice going along with this cheap charade? (I strongly advise the reader to peruse the rest of Speer’s article, because, if you can believe it, the smelly evidentiary trail of this print gets even worse.)

After retiring from the NYPD Scalice had become a forensic examiner in the private field. In other words, he was for hire. And, yes sir, after his work for PBS and Sullivan, he later took part in the Foster case. And he joined it with a vengeance. In April of 1995, he issued a report through the WJC agreeing with the idea that Foster’s body had been transported to Fort Marcy Park from an outside location. (Moldea, pp. 249-50). Part of this “analysis” was based on the phony tenet that there was not any soil found on Foster’s shoes. (Associated Press Report of 4/28/95) The problem with this, as we have seen, is that Henry Lee proved it was wrong.

But Scalice now plunged further into the Foster mire. A few months later, he switched hats and became a document examiner, one specializing in handwriting analysis. Investment advisor James Davidson was friendly with both Ruddy and Republican stalwart Grover Norquist. He also later became a board member of Newsmax. In 1995, Davidson called a press conference. Vince Foster had written a note prior to his death. He had ripped it up and thrown it into his briefcase. It expressed his discouragement with the Washington scene and his disdain for the unfair attacks on him. It was found four days after his body was discovered. Both the Fiske and the Starr inquiries had employed authorities who determined the note was written in Foster’s hand. (See Final Report of Independent Counsel, Volume 3, Part 3, p. 278, published in 2001 and finalized by attorney Robert Ray)

Well, to counter this, Davidson put Scalice on a panel with two other men, including one Reginald Alton from England. (Alton seems to have been a bit biased against the Clintons; see Moldea, p. 373.) Their analysis differed from the prior ones and said the note was a forgery. That analysis was vitiated by Marcel Matley in the Volume 21 No.1, Spring 1998 issue of the Journal of the National Association of Document Examiners.

After reading the above analysis, this author is compelled to note that when Scalice offered up his confirmation statement of the Oswald fingerprint for PBS, he did not furnish any comparison charts. This would have been standard procedure for any legal proceeding. As Pat Speer wrote, this should have been easy for him to do, as exemplars of Oswald’s prints were in the record going all the way back to his Marine Corps days. Because of that, and the other points mentioned above, it is safe to suggest that, by the nineties, Scalice was pretty much planning for his retirement. Masquerading as a versatile forensic expert, he was the equivalent of a think-tank academic for hire. With the confirmation bias agreed upon during the signing.


VII

As the reader can see, unlike the first generation of critics in the JFK case, people like Chris Ruddy and Reed Irvine had a sugar daddy who was supplying them with bucketloads of cash. This patronage both furthered their endeavors and allowed them to be publicized via full page ads in large newspapers, thus ensuring their information would be available to millions of readers. This is almost the opposite of what happened with writers like Harold Weisberg, Mark Lane, Vincent Salandria and Sylvia Meagher. Weisberg was reduced to self-publishing his books after his first. The FBI stopped Lane from publishing Rush to Judgment in the USA, leading to its first being published in England. (Mark Lane, Citizen Lane, pp. 160-61) Whatever that first generation of critics achieved was largely due to the quality of their work, not to any promotion by wealthy rightwing backers.

But it was that rightwing backing that kept on advancing further inquiries into the Foster case. And these further official inquiries were all done by those who would be politically in line with the likes of Ruddy and misaligned with the Clintons. Again, this is contrary to the Kennedy case. The Warren Commission was clearly politically biased from the start to attain a no-conspiracy verdict. (See James DiEugenio, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, Chapter 11) Once Dick Sprague and Bob Tanenbaum left the the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Robert Blakey attempted to convict Oswald, using a lot of the same dubious evidence the Warren Commission did. (See The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 63-89). Because of this innate bias, there has never been anywhere close to a real examination of the true circumstances of Kennedy’s death. This bias is furthermore why both of those inquiries proffered the ridiculous Single Bullet Fantasy as the sine qua non of their verdicts against Oswald.

But forensics was not what the Foster case was about. It was a political crusade. So––as we have seen––facts were not important. When needed, they could simply be made up. (For some further examples of this, see the Salon 12/23/97 article by Gene Lyons.) The idea, as future Solicitor General Ted Olsen told his then ally David Brock, was to publish speculation that even they understood was false, so that it would preoccupy the White House until a new scandal came along. (Washington Monthly, article by Martin Longman, 5/24/16). Can anyone in their right senses say that this stands in any comparison to what authors and activists in the Kennedy case were doing? But the underlying results in the Clinton case seem fairly obvious: it was effective. And it clearly drove Bill Clinton to the right. Which is why he hired the likes of Dick Morris to run his political office and his 1996 campaign.

The Clinton Wars brought some of the worst political hacks into the MSM. In addition to those I have mentioned, there were Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Floyd Brown, and David Bossie. And it was these characters who further decimated the Republican Party of any political beliefs it previously held under Taft and Eisenhower. They are and were simply shock troops. As congressman Trey Gowdy recently said upon leaving congress, the GOP is about one thing: winning. And since that party has been reduced to the level of Coulter and Bossie, it is about winning through a scorched earth policy, as in the case of Donald Trump Jr. trying to revive the Foster case in 2017. (CNN Report of May 11, 2017 by Andrew Kaczynski) Along with this, there was the constant refrain from the Right that the MSM was too liberal. This, of course, was preposterous. The Power Elite, which has owned the media in America for eons, was never liberal––which is why they cooperated so completely with the cover-ups of the assassinations of the sixties. As Eric Alterman has noted, this refrain about being too liberal was the equivalent of “working the refs” in sports. You softened up the gatekeepers in order to get your message on the field. And it worked. It also caused writers who had formerly been on the left to move right in order to to gain access, one example being the late Christopher Hitchens.

The Republican Party has become so bereft, so craven by this continuing devolution that it all but ignores the real scandals that have taken place in order to distract the public with these ersatz ones. The heist of the 2000 election, the probable stealing of the 2004 election, the Iran/Contra scandal, the importation of drugs into the USA by the CIA, these all are minimized or ignored by the GOP. In fact, during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsay Graham said the fact that the Senate allowed a sexual assault accuser to testify against Kavanaugh was one of the worst things he saw in his political career. Evidently, the Supreme Court and Roger Stone stealing the 2000 election––thus allowing the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis in a phony war––this did not count for anything to Graham. That is how bonkers that party has become. Their aim is to be constantly riling up the base, which does not really understand they are being used as lemmings to ensure policies that will make their lives worse.

To be clear: I never voted for either of the Clintons. Since I live in the safe state of California, I could vote Green in the general election. I never voted for either one in the primaries. As Robert Reich later noted, the Clintons were really Eisenhower Republicans. I mean, can anyone imagine Bobby Kennedy attending H. L. Hunt’s funeral, like Bill Clinton did Scaife’s? (CBS News, August 3, 2014, report by Jake Miller) My point here is that the political antics that surrounded them was nothing but a cheap and tawdry circus, one which, without Scaife’s money, likely would have never existed. And when all the investigations were done, what real charges were there? Monica Lewinsky. Talk about hypocrisy, as Larry Flynt later showed: the GOP was full of similar instances. (See SF Weekly, 9/15/99, article entitled “Inside Flynt”) To take the hypocrisy of the Lewinsky matter even further: Scaife himself carried on a long affair with a call girl, one which his wife found out about and exposed. (Vanity Fair, 1/2/08, article by Michael Joseph Gross) There were two good books written on the stupidity of all this. First, there is Blood Sport by James Stewart from 1997; and then The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, which came out in 2001. The latter was made into a documentary film in 2004.

Chris Ruddy rode the tidal wave of ridiculousness. He was well rewarded by his backers for his incessant efforts to aggrandize nonsense and create an aura of mystery where none actually existed: to suggest there was some kind of kill squad employed by the Clintons; that Vince Foster had to have been murdered and then, James Angleton style, the murder was made to look like a suicide; and that this was all over the Whitewater real estate deal in which the Clintons lost money. Today he runs Newsmax, which employs people like Mr. deLespinasse, who ridicules all ideas about conspiracies, but conveniently passes over the Foster mythology in silence. But when Ruddy does run a story and documentary on a possible JFK conspiracy, who is it about? The poseur James Files. (Report on Newsmax by Jim Myers, August 29, 2016). Ruddy has us nailed both ways.

Donald Trump has complained that he is the most attacked president in decades. Mr. Trump has a short memory. Bill Clinton was. Just ask Chris Ruddy how he did it. And how he benefited so much from it.

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 17:42
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

Related items