Taped Exchange Exposes “Pit Bull” Dan Burton as Yapping Lap Dog

When he was a backbench member of the minority Republican Party, Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana made more noise than any member of Congress about the flawed “investigations” of the death by gunshot of Bill Clinton’s deputy White House counsel, Vincent W. Foster, Jr.  He claimed that his approach to politics was, according to the March 19, 1997, Washington Post, that of a pit bull.  The Post also described Burton as “extraordinarily tenacious” and called him a “conservative firebrand.”  Concerning the Foster case in particular, The Post had this to say:

In 1994, Burton engaged in what many consider his most outrageous crusade. In lengthy speeches on the House floor, he challenged the official finding that the death of deputy White House counsel Foster was a suicide. There were dark if unspoken suggestions in Burton's insistence that Foster's body had been moved and that he did not die in Virginia's Fort Marcy Park, where the body was found.

At one point during his personal investigation, Burton fired a gun at a "head-like thing" (which he still won't identify) in his back yard to prove, he says, that the sound of a gunshot in the park would have been heard by security guards at the nearby residence of the Saudi Arabian ambassador.

"I do not recant on any of it," Burton said. "I still believe that his body was moved but I'm not going to beat on that." If Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr concludes, as have other prosecutors, that Foster's death was a suicide, and there are no new revelations, "I'm not going to reopen that investigation," Burton said.

When the Republicans had gained control of the House of Representatives the previous November and Burton had unexpectedly been elevated to the chairmanship of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, critics of the government in the Foster case had good reason to believe that, at last, a truly independent inquiry would be made.  A leader among that group was a man who had already done quite a bit of investigation of his own, Reed Irvine, the head of the conservative media watchdog organization, Accuracy in Media.  His most notable discovery known at the time to those of us who had also looked into the Foster death was that the X-ray technician responsible for maintenance of the X-ray machine that was to have been used in the Foster autopsy reported that the machine had been installed only a little more than a month before the autopsy, and no problems with it had been reported.  This contradicted autopsy doctor James Beyer’s report that no X-rays were available because of a faulty machine with which he said they had had “numerous problems.” (See Part 3 of my “America’s Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster.”)

The position that Burton announced to The Post in March, that is, that now that he could actually do something, he was, in effect, folding his tent, had to be a huge disappointment to Irvine.  Though a disappointment, it was hardly a surprise.  The surprise, and the greatest disappointment, had come earlier, back in December when the telephone conversation had taken place that you can now hear on YouTube, “Congressman Dan Burton & Vincent Foster.” 

When the conversation begins, Burton is still the stand-up fellow conservative critic of the Clinton administration, “If I tell you something,” he says to Irvine confidently, “it’ll be the straight scoop.”  But as the conversation nears its end, we have this from a clearly flustered Burton, “If you don’t trust me…if you don’t want to give me the information, then don’t do it.”

In between is this pivotal exchange:

Irvine:  “Be courageous…Don’t be a wimp.”

Burton:  “Jesus Christ!  I’m not going to be a wimp with anybody, and that includes you.”

But he was.

Intentionally Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Irvine should have known that when Burton was making all that noise from his back bench in the Congress he was never serious about seeing justice done in the Foster case.  All along, it would seem, he was like the little dog behind the fence sounding off at the big dog being walked by his safely enclosed yard.  The gate was opened when he became committee chairman, and he shut up and went slinking away.

But the comparison is not perfect.  Upon closer attention to his noisy criticism of the authorities, what we see is that he was engaging in deception all along.  He was no more the one American congressman interested in the truth about Foster’s death than the ostensibly Richard Mellon Scaife-financed Christopher Ruddy was the one honest American journalist.  Consider my observations back in 1998 in Part 5 of “America’s Dreyfus Affair.”  I’m talking about the cover-up book by Dan E. Moldea, A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm:

Let's dive right into the heart of this phony wrestling match. Look at how they both [Moldea and Ruddy] treat Indiana Republican Representative Dan Burton. To both, Burton is the great skeptic on Capitol Hill. Neither seems to have noticed the fact that now that he is Oversight Committee chairman, and in an ideal place to put up on the Foster case, he has shut up. Moldea gives us long passages from Burton's floor speech of July 13, 1994, when he was not even the ranking committee member of the minority party. Take a critical look at the snake oil he was selling:

I believe there is a real possibility that Vince Foster committed suicide. I do not believe, after reading that (Fiske) report in some detail with about seven other people, that he committed suicide at Fort Marcy Park. I believe that his body was moved to that location....
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There was blonde hair, not Mr. Foster's, on his T-shirt and other parts of his garments. Whose hair was it? It was not his. There were carpet and other wool fibers found on the body. Where did they come from?

I do not like to talk about this, but there was semen found on his underwear, which would indicate there might have been a sexual experience that afternoon between one and five."
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Why did the man who found Foster's body say there was no gun in either hand, not once, not twice, but three times when he talked to Gordon Liddy, and that is the man the FBI investigated.

My concern is for the facts and the truth. When people say I am down here trying to bring this body to a low ebb, I resent it." (pp. 249-251)

One cannot help wondering where the great concern for facts and truth went when Burton became committee chairman. But was it really ever there? Even in the "courageous" floor speech there are the earmarks of fake-right misdirection, the same emphasis on the curious, difficult-to-believe witness who comes to us through the dubious auspices of G. Gordon Liddy and Robert Novak and the promotion of what looks for all the world like a safe fall-back position, the suggestion that Foster killed himself in some embarrassing place or manner and some folks then took it upon themselves to protect the family, the White House, and the American people from the embarrassment by dumping the body in the out-of-the-way park. Even the fact that there is apparently "hard" evidence for such a scenario such as the unknown hair and the semen in the shorts might well be doubted. It originates, after all, with the dubious FBI lab, whose probity has recently been called into question in a number of other cases and which claimed to have detected the anti-depressant Trazadone in Foster's blood when it was missed by the autopsy toxicologist.

The “Vincent Foster” section of the current Wikipedia page, while trying to tell us what we are supposed to believe also manages to impart some pertinent information:

Burton was one of the most ardent opponents of President Bill Clinton. In 1998, he said, "If I could prove 10 percent of what I believe happened, he'd [Clinton] be gone. This guy's a scumbag. That's why I'm after him." Rep. Burton led the House inquiry into the death of Vincent Foster; he was convinced that Foster was murdered and urged extensive investigation into the possible involvement of the Clintons. Burton gained attention for re-enacting the alleged crime in his backyard with his own pistol and a pumpkin standing in for Foster's head. After hearings into Democratic fundraising (see section below) began, a Democratic National Committee staffer appeared in a pumpkin suit with a button that read, "Don't shoot." Burton's information during the Whitewater controversy was based on opposition research conducted by Floyd Brown, who founded Citizens United in 1988, which created the well-known Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis.  Because of the problems with the quality of Brown's research and testimony, the investigation was closed.

And what investigation might that be?  What the clumsy writer means to say, we suppose, is that he never conducted any investigation because all he ever had was supplied to him by highly dubious sources.  If Citizens United was his only information source, then the “dubious sources” part is certainly true, but as Reed Irvine and anyone who had looked into the matter with any seriousness knew, there was a lot more damning information to be had.

Actually, as it turns out, Irvine, along with a lot of American journalists, knew a lot more incriminating stuff than any of us.  He had been talking at length on the telephone to U.S. attorney, Miguel Rodriguez, who resigned in disgust in January of 1995 from his position of Kenneth Starr’s lead investigator.  That’s Irvine’s taped conversation with Rodriguez that you can listen to here.  Irvine was still alive—he died in 2004—when the Rodriguez tapes were made public and his end of the conversation was edited out. 

Rodriquez, we learn from the tape, had talked to a lot of journalists while he was on the job, trying to get the story of the cover-up out, but to no avail.  “I have talked to a number of people that – you know, from Time Magazine, Newsweek, Nightline, The New York Times, Boston Globe, the Atlanta whatever, um, you know there have been well over a hundred, and this – this matter is so sealed tight….”  And the lid stayed on, as it does to this day.  We also learn from Rodriguez, among a great number of other important things, that Foster’s body had indeed been moved, but not from some “safe house” to Fort Marcy Park as Burton and Ruddy would want us to think, but from one position to another, in a fashion that would make his death look more consistent with suicide.  Here is how the narrator of the Rodriquez-Irvine tape sums it up:

Miquel Rodriguez explains that the body was moved in the presence of Park Police Officer John Rolla, with the knowledge of the medical examiner Dr. Donald Haut, and others.  Rescue worker Corey Ashford arrived at Foster’s body after it had already been moved. Crime scene photos of the body as it had originally been observed apparently vanished. 

At this point I shall stop leading the witness (that’s you) and simply invite him to go listen again to Miguel Rodriguez and to the Irvine-Burton exchange and make up his own mind.  If Rep. Burton should complain about his private telephone conversation being made public (In DC it’s legal to tape phone conversations without notifying the party at the other end that you are doing so.), it will just be a case of the guilty dog barking.

David Martin

February 3, 2012

 

 

 

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