The Counsel, the Cop, and the Keys
by DCDave

"Objection, your honor. Counsel is leading the witness."

"Objection sustained."

And so it goes daily, as any TV drama fan knows, in courtrooms all over the country. Not so when the charge in the case is self-murder and the victim/accused-perpetrator is without legal representation. Unchallenged witness-leading, in fact, is the order of the day at your typical U.S. Senatorial sham hearing/investigation. But just as some horses coaxed to the proximity of liquid refreshment can be more easily persuaded to imbibe than can others, some witnesses are more easily led in desired directions than others.

Consider the super-smooth chief minority counsel of the Senate Whitewater Committee, Richard Ben-Veniste, as he interrogates the lead U.S. Park Police investigator, John Rolla, about Rolla's work on his very first homicide case, that of Deputy White House Counsel, Vincent Foster. The exchange took place on Thursday, July 20, 1995, two years to the day after Foster's body was found on the back side of an earthen berm in the far corner of a lightly-visited, preserved leftover from the Civil War off Virginia's George Washington Parkway, Fort Marcy Park. The body, we were to learn later, had been found lying straight as a stick with both arms neatly down by the side. No blood or brain tissue was seen blown out the back of the head although the autopsy doctor would report finding an exit wound there the size of a half dollar from a high-powered .38 caliber bullet supposedly fired into the mouth. The gaping exit wound noted by the septuagenarian doctor with previous highly-dubious autopsies leading to suicide conclusions to his credit was not seen by any of the twenty-five people--by known count--who saw the body that night. The autopsy had been moved up so that, contrary to standard procedure, the investigators at the park were not able to attend. Though the revolver found in the hand, lying almost under the right leg, was said to have been pressed deep into the back of the mouth, there was no disfigurement of the mouth from the blast or the recoil. No teeth were chipped. No blow-back was on the weapon or the hand or the sleeve nor were there any fingerprints of the deceased. Neither did he leave fingerprints on either the spent shell casing or the remaining bullet in the cylinder, and no matching bullets were ever found, to mention just a few of the anomalies.

The exchange begins this way:

BEN-VENISTE. Detective Rolla, what does your training tell you to do in a circumstance or situation where you have come upon a violent death by apparent gunshot in terms of control of the area?

ROLLA. On any crime scene you're going to seal off a certain section of the area large enough to search and keep individuals out of that area.

BEN-VENISTE. So you want to secure the area and you want to take control of the situation?

ROLLA. That's correct.

BEN-VENISTE. That's what your training teaches you?

ROLLA. That's correct.

BEN-VENISTE. Now, you made every effort, as we have heard today, to take control of the situation at Fort Marcy Park to ensure that the scene of Mr. Foster's death was not disturbed. Is that so, sir?

ROLLA. That's correct.

BEN-VENISTE. On the basis of your review of the evidence at Fort Marcy Park, everything that you saw was consistent with an apparent suicide; is that correct?

ROLLA. That's correct, keeping an open mind to other options based on the physical evidence that was in front of us, it was all leading right to a suicide.

BEN-VENISTE. In fact, later that evening you and Sergeant Braun had advised the Foster family that this was an apparent suicide?

ROLLA. Yes I did.

So far so good for the Columbia-educated New Yorker, Ben-Veniste, a man who very early in his career rose to national prominence as an assistant to the special counsel in the Watergate case and later achieved a quieter notoriety as a defense counsel for government-protected, Arkansas and likely-CIA-connected mega-drug smuggler, Barry Seal.* The curious choice of the woefully-inexperienced, diction-challenged, but talkative, Rolla had already caused problems for the government case in the hearing and deposition stage of the Foster "investigation." His very presence in such a key position certainly lends credibility to the fall-back position that the original investigation was simply botched, but his tendency to talk too much and his failure at times to see what he is expected to say have increased the need for an alternative to the simple suicide-from-depression scenario that the public has been sold from the beginning.

But at this point, Ben-Veniste must have been breathing easy. Notice that, with respect to police training and procedures, he has not elicited from Rolla that in the investigation of any violent death, the original assumption of murder is fundamental, an assumption that is to be maintained until enough evidence has been collected to rule it out. Ben-Veniste is not alone in ignoring this point. One may search the record with a fine-toothed comb and nowhere will he find the direct question put to the investigating officers, "What steps did you take to rule out murder?" Notice, too, that when Rolla, speaking of the early evidence, says that it was "all leading right to a suicide," he is not asked to elaborate. Having obtained his invited answer, Ben-Veniste then exhibits less curiosity than one would expect from a casual bystander. He has, no doubt, been warned about Rolla, and knows that it is not safe to let him talk too much about the sensitive details of the case.

We may pass over the fact that conversation with the Foster family that Ben-Veniste alludes to would not have been possible if the authorities had stuck to the story that The Washington Post had put out on July 30, 1993, and was left unchallenged for almost a year, that is that the police were turned away from the Foster house that night. Immediately after the above quoted transcript, an exchange ensued--which we shall omit--about how essential it is for the police to make the death notification to the family, and then we have this:

BEN-VENISTE. Did you tell Mrs. Foster that no suicide note had been found in Fort Marcy Park?

ROLLA. No, she never asked that question, and I didn't advise it.

BEN-VENISTE. Did you advise anyone there that evening that no note had been found?

ROLLA. I tell you, I don't know if anyone asked me that question. I don't remember. I may have told them.

BEN-VENISTE. If they asked you, you would have told them?

ROLLA. No, it was not a secret.

BEN-VENISTE. These people were grieving; they were looking to you for help as well as comfort from their friends and relatives, correct?

ROLLA. Yes; correct.

BEN-VENISTE. There wasn't any reason you wouldn't tell them?

ROLLA. No, there would be no secret about it.

BEN-VENISTE. In fact, you've indicated that you did search for a suicide note at the scene of Mr. Foster's death?

ROLLA. We searched the scene, searched his person. His vehicle was on the scene.**

Woops! Sound the alarm bells! We've gone a bit too far here.

If Rolla had searched Foster's body at the scene, it certainly stands to reason that he could have hardly failed to miss the keys to Foster's car that Rolla says was there, that is, if the keys were actually there, but the record shows that no keys were found at the park, not on Foster, not in the car, not on the ground, nowhere. At the point where it dawned on the investigators that they had no car keys they surely could not have continued to think that "it was all leading right to a suicide." At the very least, a frantic search of the grounds would have ensued, that is, if anyone really seriously thought that the evidence otherwise pointed to suicide. Not many people would believe that Foster hot-wired his car to take his last drive. But no, what we have been asked to believe is that the very first, not the last thought the police had was, "Oh, we must have missed the keys when we were going through Foster's pockets looking for any evidence we could collect and put into our documented evidence collection. Let's hustle right off to the morgue and look in his pockets again."

Ben-Veniste knows how the keys turned up, with a set of house and office keys thrown in to boot, and he tries to dig himself out of this little hole, pulling on the reins of the uncomprehending witness as hard as he can:

BEN-VENISTE. You didn't search his person at the scene, did you?

ROLLA. After it was pronounced, we emptied his pockets. Yes, I did remove his personal property and search them.

Wake up, Rolla! Think of what you are saying.

BEN-VENISTE. At the scene or at the hospital?

ROLLA. At the scene. We went to the hospital because I happened to miss his car keys in his right front pants pocket.

Whew! That's a relief. But what a gift Rolla or his sidekick/trainer Sgt. Cheryl Braun must have! It must be nice to know confidently where you must look when something is missing. I guess it helps when you have been told that two White House operatives are going to the morgue to "identify the body," a body that the police have already identified perfectly well with the help of a White House photo ID. It's a good thing that, by the time Kenneth Starr looked into the matter, Rolla had got on the same page with Braun and agreed that they went to the morgue before going to the Foster home and before the White House people got to the morgue instead of after, as Rolla had clearly implied in previous testimony.***

BEN-VENISTE. So you made a cursory search of Mr. Foster's pants pockets, but you did not at that time locate the set of keys to the car?

ROLLA. That's correct. I neglected to turn the pocket inside out.

BEN-VENISTE. You did not find a note, clearly?

ROLLA. No, there's no note.

Not yet, anyway. That would take a bit more doing. But for now, let's heave a sigh that the counsel and the cop are off a subject the counsel dearly wanted to avoid, the matter of those pesky keys.

*In addition to Ben-Veniste, a surprising number of veterans of the "Silent Coup," to use the title term of Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin's 1991 book about Watergate, resurface in the Foster case. Foster's boss, White House counsel and White House obstructor of the police search of Foster's office, Bernard Nussbaum, was on the House Watergate Committee, where he supervised the freshly-minted young attorney, Hillary Rodham. On the Senate committee looking into Watergate as assistant chief counsel was close Clinton confidante in recent years, James Hamilton, the "Foster family attorney" chosen for them by the White House. Hamilton ranks up close to autopsy doctor, James C. Beyer, for the role he has played in building the case for suicide. And we must not forget convicted Watergate felon, G. Gordon Liddy, the man who brought forward the "confidential witness" with his belated and unlikely tale of how he discovered the body and anonymously notified authorities. These are the ones we know about. Who knows how many more there might be behind the scenes?

We also find in the Foster case, perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, a number of Yale products. Both Clintons, Hamilton, and Williams and Connolly lawyer to the president, David Kendall, have Yale law degrees, and Whitewater special prosecutor, Robert Fiske and one of his consulting pathologists, James L. Luke, have Yale bachelor's degrees.

**The evidence is quite strong that Foster's car was not "on the scene" at Fort Marcy Park until well after his dead body was. The failure of early witness, Patrick Knowlton, to make his description of the car he saw in the Fort Marcy parking lot accord with what his FBI interrogators wanted him to say is, according to Knowlton's thesis in his suit against them, what led to his harassment and attempted intimidation on the streets of Washington, DC. See the World Net Daily interview of investigator Hugh Turley on this topic.

***This is from John Rolla's Senate deposition of July 21, 1994:

Q. Now, did you ever talk to, let's see, Bill Kennedy at the White House, who was seeking permission to identify the body?

A. Oh, I'm sorry. Maybe through a question you asked before -- yes. After we left the scene, myself and Investigator Braun were heading to Mr. Foster's residence in Georgetown to make a death notification. Lieutenant Gavin called us and we talked to him, and he started to call these guys from the White House. Bill Kennedy and Craig Livingston, or Livingstone, whatever it is, I called them. I don't know if it was on a mobile phone or whatever. They wanted to know where he was at, Mr. Foster, and could they see him. I told them he was taken to the Fairfax County Hospital, he was in the morgue. They wanted to see him. They knew him, they were personal friends, they worked with him at the White House. They could positively identify the body even though we, through photo identification. knew who he was. If they wanted to see the body, we didn't have a problem with that. We called the security guards at the hospital, told them they would be coming and it would be all right to see the body. (Curious thing, that, wanting to see a colleague's dead body. ed.)

David Martin
January 24, 1999

AddendumCar Keys Never Entered into Evidence

Maybe the keys that Officers Braun and Rolla say they retrieved from the morgue did not even include Foster's Honda key.   The only keys that FBI investigators ever officially entered into evidence, keys with a Cook Jeep Sales of Little Rock, Arkansas, tag attached to the ring, did not include any key that would open or start a Honda automobile.  You can see a photograph of the evidence at

July 31, 2006


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