Interview with James B. Stewart, April 30, 1996

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BRIEM: Do you know Hugh Sprunt?

STEWART: Uh, refresh my memory. That sounds slightly familiar.

BRIEM: Sprunt is a Texas CPA and attorney and he wrote a 165 page report called Citizen's Independent Report on the Death of Vince Foster.

STEWART: I believe on some of the shows I've been on, I have heard about it. I haven't read it myself and I'm not really familiar with his work.

BRIEM: But he has taken you to task for a lot of things, one being that you dismiss out of hand the work of Chris Ruddy. In fact, I had Chris Ruddy on the show and he sort of said you did a hatchet job on him; and of course, "60 Minutes" did the same thing. But you also dismiss the idea of the three international handwriting experts and the suicide note.

STEWART: Well, let me say I don't feel I did any kind of a hatchet job on Chris Ruddy. I certainly give Chris Ruddy credit for interviewing people that the mainstream media were ignoring and for helping to call attention to the fact, that I agree with, that this was a very hasty, unprofessional investigation, and because of that, that you know, there's no one there to blame, in large part, for many of the questions that have swirled about the death of Vince Foster. I do not agree with Chris Ruddy's, um, conclusion, or many intimations, for reasons that I discuss in the book. But I would hardly call that a hatchet job. I might further add that I called Chris Ruddy, I and my research assistant, a total of about a dozen times, and he would never agree to discuss his work or anything with me.

BRIEM: Really.

STEWART: And uh, so I feel in large part, if he feels that he was not fairly treated, he has no one to blame but himself. On the handwriting question, again, the reason I feel so convinced, um, as I, as other investigators have also concluded, this is a suicide, is, putting aside the forensic evidence for a moment, to me, overwhelming evidence of, of Vince Foster's depression and how seriously his state of mind had eroded and the reasons for that. Reasons I might add, that the White House did not want anyone asking about or getting to the bottom of.

But putting that aside, yes, there had been some anomalous forensic, um, aspects of this. But I found that virtually all of them were not inconsistent with the verdict of suicide once you've looked at what had really happened and tried to piece it together as best as could be done.

On the question of the handwriting analysis, my understanding is that, that Chris Ruddy organized these people and um, I've seen Vince Foster's handwriting and I saw the handwriting in the note. It looked the same to me. I'm not a handwriting expert, but I do know from my own experience as a lawyer, before I became a journalist, a trial lawyer, that you can find an expert to say virtually anything, and particularly in things as, as handwriting. I mean, nothing is ever 100% certain, but I think it's, it certainly is probable, if not highly probable, that it is his handwriting.

BRIEM: You know what I found interesting in this book? And um, it's worth the price of the book just to see what a mainstream newspaper like the Los Angeles Times did or did not do regarding the Troopergate story. That's a fascinating story that you report.

STEWART: Well I'm glad you point that out because, um, so few journalists will ever write about what really goes on in the media and I tried to do that in this story. You know the Clinton White House has taken the position that they've been persecuted by mainstream media like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times. But I think what you see in this story is that far from being persecuted, the L.A. Times, the New York Times, have, have in fact suppressed information that was unflattering to the Clintons, information that has subsequently turned out to be true.

BRIEM: When I read, and this is the first time I ever heard about it, that the L.A. Times editors, Jack Nelson, the Washington Bureau Chief, Shelby Coffee III, here, saying we've got to have lie detector tests, I just about fell over.

STEWART: Well, I've never heard of any reporter being held to that standard. If, if that standard, um, were required, half the stories we read would never appear in the paper, and um, uh, you know, we wouldn't have these newspapers. It was, it was preposterous and it struck me as, you know, completely inconsistent with standard news gathering policies. As the L.A. Times reporters were so upset about it, it was, first of all, they had gotten these, these troopers to go way out on a limb at considerable risk to themselves to tell this story on the record, to put their reputations behind it, and then they were told to go back and demand that they take lie detector tests. It was insulting to them, as it would be to anyone.

BRIEM: Before this happened I talked with, uh, Douglas Franz. He was a first class investigative reporter as far as I was concerned. He had written a book, and, uh, he resigned over this thing! He said I want no more of it.

STEWART: Yes he did. He was so upset, and he felt his, um, his integrity had been so compromised by the handling of the story by the editors. You know the other thing you see in this story is they dragged their heals. It wasn't just the lie detector test thing, um, and by the way the troopers even agreed to take it once that hurdle was put in their path. But it was one thing after another. They came up with preposterous questions that had to be answered and they said it had to be delayed and then they had to think about it and then the editor went on a skiing vacation.

BRIEM: And when they finally did print it, they put their own spin on it in the first lead of the story.

STEWART: They rewrote it like it was some historical tract.

BRIEM: Yes.

STEWART: And suddenly they're resurrecting stories about Thomas Jefferson and whether he had an affair with, um, you know, a black servant or something like that. Completely throwing it off, off, off the, um, off the track. And they barely put it on the front page. It was in just three little paragraphs stuffed down at the bottom right hand corner.

BRIEM: Being in Los Angeles, having lived here for much of my life, and seeing what the L.A. Times has done, it just, coming from a Pulitzer Prize winning author like yourself, it struck me, this book should be read by everyone because they could understand how difficult it must be for us in a one newspaper city, the second largest city in the country, and uh, what goes on with a one newspaper city. It's terrible, it really is. I feel very bad, uh, that we only have one newspaper because, uh, the old spirit of journalism seems to be dying, and, uh, it lends itself to, call it slanting, censorship, call it, call it whatever you want. Uh, you have a better term for it, I'm sure. The point is that, uh, it bothers me and I talk about it on the air quite, uh, quite frequently and now it's for all to read. I'll bet the L.A. Times is not happy with this book.

STEWART: Well, you know, again, in fairness, I can't, I can't comment generally about the L.A. Times. But I, um, cause I only looked in detail in this one aspect of it, but I think another startling aspect of it was that within the L.A. Times, they felt that the Washington bureau was so close to the Clintons that they didn't even trust people in the Washington bureau to know that they were working on a story, an investigative story on the Clintons, for fear that the Clintons would be tipped off about it by somebody in their own organization.

BRIEM: Wow.

STEWART: And again, I thought that was an extraordinary revelation that said a lot. And I think the L.A. Times is not unique in this respect.

BRIEM: No, it isn't.

STEWART: Um, one of the things I learned about, one of the thinks I heard when I was asking, well why did the White House cut off their cooperation with me. I heard that George Stephanopolous said well, you can't trust book writers because they don't need us, they do their book, they do one book, they drop it and then they leave. They don't come back for more. He said we have to deal with the daily, you know, the daily press, the people who cover the press regularly. They need us. They have to come back day after day and get something from us. We can manipulate and control them. We can't control book writers. And unfortunately, I think that that is true about many of the news organizations in Washington. They're looking for next day's handout.

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BRIEM: To put something into perspective here, Sara Fritz, who writes for the L.A. Times, did something that I can't imagine being done. I wonder if the editor at the Times really knew that this was in her story. She, uh, at the end of a story about uh, uh, the, the trial in Little Rock, uh, she also writes: "Also on Sunday Newsweek magazine reported that the fingerprints of the First Lady were found on copies of her law firm's billing records that turned up at the White House not long ago. The billing records, which had been under subpoena for two years, before they were found, are being treated as evidence in the government's investigation of alleged obstruction of the Whitewater investigation by the First Lady.

STEWART: Um, huh. That's an extraordinary turn of events.

BRIEM: That is extraordinary. Do you believe that there could be an indictment of the First Lady?

STEWART: I would, would by no means rule that out as a possibility. I can't say there will be, of course, but, you know, this is under very thorough investigation, and, you know, the presence of the First Lady's fingerprints, the White House has been quick to say well, they think maybe she handled these during the 1992 campaign. I suspect that FBI techniques are such that they'll have some idea of when those fingerprints appeared on the document. But, again, the fingerprints standing alone do not prove that the First Lady handled these recently, within the time of subpoena. She's gone before a grand jury, under oath, denying that she had anything to do with these billing records or knew how they got in the White House. Um, and yet, they certainly don't exonerate her, and the circumstantial evidence on this continues to mount. All I can say is that if indeed it develops that the First Lady was handling these documents in this recent time frame, during which they were under subpoena, I would say she will almost certainly be indicted, and probably before the election.

BRIEM: Really.

STEWART: And, you know, people look at these poll numbers. I'm surprised that, this, this proceeding, um, in Little Rock against the McDougals, the Clintons' partners, and Jim Guy Tucker, has not been getting more attention. I mean, David Hale, however much his credibility in question, a federal prosecutor, Independent Counsel, put him on the witness stand and elicited testimony, under oath, in which he implicated the President of the United States in a fraudulent loan scheme. Now this is, this is ominous. This is a major cloud hanging over this administration and I wouldn't rule out at this point, anything that might result from this.

BRIEM: Wow.

STEWART: Including indictments.

<snip>

BRIEM: Peter, you're on KIEV with Ray Briem and Jim Stewart. Go ahead. <snip> CALLER: James Stewart, I very much enjoyed your book.

STEWART: Well, thank you.

CALLER: And, in fact, I'm rereading it. But I have to point out that your treatment of the Foster side of the issue is not really, uh, to uh, to my expectations. I wish that you'd be a little bit more skeptical. Please at least comment on this in the short time we have. It is a fact from the Fiske Report that there were no broken or chipped teeth even though the gun was deep in his mouth. There are no fingerprints on that gun, a gun he had to handle in a most strange way with his fingers. And finally, there is no dirt on his shoes and he had to walk 600 feet. Please, respond to these points, sir.

STEWART: Um, I had a little trouble hearing, hearing some of that.

CALLER: Oh, okay.

STEWART: But, you know, again, I do remember looking into the dirt on the shoes question for example. It was a very dry day. There was dirt in the area. But it seemed that it was at least possible that it wouldn't have stuck, um, to his shoes. Uh, and, you know, some of the other, other questions again, um.

CALLER: Fingerprints on the gun, no fingerprints on the gun. That really bothers me sir.

STEWART: You're certain there were no fingerprints on the gun?

CALLER: That's what the Fiske Report and Christopher Ruddy come out with and others have studied it and there's just nothing on there.

STEWART: Well, all I can say is that, you know, you know, I covered, I covered this, um, I went into many of the, of the supposed anomalies that came up. In each case I, the ones that I did look into, you know for example, why didn't, why wasn't the gun seen in his hand at the first time, I did find plausible explanations that were consistent with the verdict of suicide. I don't recall looking specifically into the issue of fingerprints, but, um, as I said before, it was his state of mind at being so depressed. It just to me, it flew in the face of all reasoning that someone that depressed would have coincidentally have run into, uh, foul play. But I did look, and particularly when I, the things that I did look into, I found ultimately I did not believe were inconsistent with the verdict of suicide.

Now I acknowledge that there are some peculiarities, that the, that the investigation was unprofessional, it was hasty, as I pointed out in my book the person in charge of it initially had never even done a homicide investigation. They didn't even get the, uh, ballistics test on the weapon until after they had rendered a verdict of suicide. There's much to be skeptical about and its understandable that people have had trouble accepting this, um, this conclusion. On the other hand, I would have, could have spent the rest of my life looking into that and I feel at some point you just take the weight of the evidence and you go with what you believe.

BRIEM: Very good, Peter, thank you. Uh, Mr. Stewart, its interesting in the past two or three weeks that Mr. Starr has appointed Stewart Parker [Ray undoubtedly meant to say Steve Parker] as a, as a homicide investigator to look into this, this whole aspect.

STEWART: Yes, I'm, I'm aware of that. I think that's a good idea because I hope the Starr investigation will be thorough and will reach conclusions that satisfy people. I don't think it does anyone any benefit to have a mystery hanging out there when you're dealing with the death of, um, you know, the highest level government official ever to commit suicide, if suicide indeed is what it, what it turns out to be.

However, I wouldn't read into that they think its any, conclude its anything but suicide. My own understanding from my sources inside the Independent Counsel investigation is that they, they are, you know, done and I can't say this with any certainty, but that they too, I think, are tending in the direction that it's a suicide. But I welcome the appointment of a murder expert. I think they should bend over backwards to be absolutely definitive when they finally do issue a conclusion on this.

BRIEM: All right, let's take another call. We've got Allan on the line. Allan, you're on KIEV with Ray Briem and James Stewart. Go ahead.

CALLER: Hello there. Good afternoon gentlemen.

STEWART: Hello.

CALLER: Mr. Stewart, can you hear me?

STEWART: Yes, I can.

CALLER: I'm looking at, uh, pages 1646 through 1649 of Senate Hearings.

STEWART: Yes.

CALLER: Regarding the Foster death that were released publicly.

STEWART: Yes.

CALLER: And FBI typed notes of their interview with Lisa Foster and it is clear from these notes that they showed her a silver gun and told her that this was the one that was found in Fort Marcy Park. Yet the gun that was in the ABC-News released photo is a black gun with no silver on it.

STEWART: Mm, huh.

CALLER: And also, if you look at pages 2407 to 2412 in the Senate Hearings, volume 2, you see other photos of the totally black revolver. My question is, do you dispute, uh, any of this and why did you not tell your readers that the FBI showed Lisa Foster a silver gun when the official photos of the gun show a black gun, and can you come up with any innocent explanation for this discrepancy?

STEWART: Well, um, you know, again, I, I leave that to experts on that. But my impression was that it was the silver gun. There was a silver gun that Lisa Foster had packed back in Little Rock. It came to Washington. That there was a silver gun in, in the Fosters' possession, and that this was the gun that she was shown. I don't know if, precisely remember whether she, she identified it definitely as the gun that she'd brought or not. Um, in any event though, the photograph I, you know, I'm not sure that you know, sometimes silver, depending on the light and whatnot, can look black. And I, and I've never been personally convinced that this is definitively a different gun.

On the other hand, um, its quite possible that the FBI would show a silver gun to Lisa Foster, uh, that this being the gun that had come from Little Rock, or whatever. Maybe, maybe it is a different gun. I just feel that that doesn't in the end, um, obviously it does raise questions, if its two different guns, but I don't think its dispositive.

CALLER: But, uh, have you looked at, uh, pages 2407 to 2412 of the volume 2 of the Hearings which definitively show, uh, a totally black revolver?

STEWART: Well, again, I have these sitting here on my desk. I can look at them again, but as I recall the reproduction of the photograph isn't very good. And its very hard to tell short of actually seeing these weapons whether they're, whether they're the same or not and I, and I haven't actually physically seen these. I don't know, um, who has, but presumably the people in the Fiske investigation and now in the Starr investigation have the weapon and can reach that conclusion themselves.

BRIEM: All right, Allan.

STEWART: I did review all those FBI reports.

BRIEM: All right, Allan, thank you.

<snip>

Mr. Stewart may have trouble recognizing a totally black/dark blue gun in the official photos and in the ABC News/Time photo, but how does he explain the official eyewitness testimony and the official Park Police reports by John Rolla and by another officer, describing the official death gun as black/dark if the official death gun was silver as he speculates? Stewart actually said on the radio that "there was a silver gun in, in the Fosters' possession, and that this was the gun that she was shown." He said this while apparently ignorant of the fact that the official death gun was black/dark blue.

As far as I know, all the official eyewitness testimony regarding the official death gun describes it as no color other than black or dark. The official photos of the official death gun and the ABC News/Time photo show the official death gun as being totally black/dark blue.

Mr. Stewart must be confronted with the fact that the official death gun is black/dark blue and the fact that, as Stewart admits, Lisa was shown a silver gun by the FBI. When showing her the silver gun they either expressly told her or strongly implied that the silver gun she was being shown was the gun found with Vince in Fort Marcy Park. Mr. Stewart failed to reconcile these facts.

Mr. Stewart also must be asked to explain why Fiske wrote in his report that Lisa identified the official death gun when the death gun was officially black/dark blue and the gun upon which she based her identification was silver.

Even if one were to assume that Lisa was shown the black/dark blue official death gun by the FBI ten months after the death, and she said it may be Vince's silver gun, then Mr. Stewart should explain why Fiske used that obviously faulty identification as the basis for his conclusion that Lisa identified the official death gun as Vince's.

Mr. Stewart's book Blood Sport fails to answer these vital questions. In fact, in his book, Mr. Stewart's only reference to the color of any gun that might be the death gun, is to the color silver, when he describes how Lisa helped bring Vince's silver handgun to Washington from Little Rock.

Curiously, Stewart ignores all references in the official investigative record to the fact that the official death gun was not silver, but black or dark. One reference to the official death gun being black was in the sworn testimony of Park Police Officer John Rolla. However, in Blood Sport, when Stewart quotes that portion of Rolla's testimony, Stewart omits Rolla's reference to the gun's black color as reported by Rolla.

Obviously, it would have been ridiculous for Stewart to strongly imply in Blood Sport that the official death gun was silver, by describing how Lisa helped bring Vince's silver handgun to Washington and in the same book report Officer Rolla's eyewitness testimony that the official death gun was black.

So what did Stewart do? He omitted Officer Rolla's eyewitness testimony about the color of the official death gun. My best guess is that Stewart's omission was not intentionally done to deceive, but rather, was the result of poor scholarship.

Any further printings of Blood Sport should correct Stewart's failure to deal properly with the gun color issue. After being alerted to the problem on Ray Briem's talk radio show on April 30, 1996, Stewart should act like the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist he is, and correct his mistakes.