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Vince Foster suicide linked to Arkansas tainted plasma sales

Mark Kennedy
The Ottawa Citizen

The controversy over how a U.S. firm collected tainted blood from
Arkansas prison inmates and shipped it to Canada has spread to Vince
Foster -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's personal confidant who committed
suicide in 1993. 

Mr. Foster, a boyhood friend of Mr. Clinton's, was one of the president's
most trusted advisers. As a corporate lawyer in Arkansas, he worked in the
same law office as Hillary Rodham Clinton and became a close colleague of

When Mr. Clinton left Arkansas for the White House in early 1993, he
called on Mr. Foster -- known as an earnest individual with high ethical
standards -- to join him as deputy White House counsel. Mr. Foster
obliged, also remaining the Clintons' personal lawyer. Now, five years after
his mysterious death, two developments have prompted questions about
Mr. Foster's knowledge of the U.S. company's prison-blood collection

  - There are signs that Mr. Foster tried to protect the company called Health
    Management Associates (HMA) more than a decade ago in a lawsuit. 

  - And a major U.S. daily newspaper recently reported that Mr. Foster may
    have been worried about the tainted-blood scandal, which was just
    emerging as a contentious issue in Canada, when he killed himself in July

Mr. Clinton was governor of Arkansas when the Canadian blood supply
was contaminated in the early and mid-1980s. He was familiar with the
operations of the now-defunct HMA, the Arkansas firm given a contract by
Mr. Clinton's state administration to provide medical care to prisoners. In
the process, HMA was also permitted by the state to collect prisoners'
blood and sell it elsewhere. 

HMA's president in the mid-1980s, Leonard Dunn, was a friend of Mr.
Clinton's and a political ally. Later, Mr. Dunn was a Clinton appointee to
the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and he was among the
senior members of Mr. Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial re-election team. 

The contaminated prisoners' plasma -- used to create special blood
products for hemophiliacs -- is believed to have been infected with HIV, the
virus that causes AIDS. As well, it's likely the plasma was contaminated
with hepatitis C. 

Any information linking Mr. Foster to HMA and its blood program is bound
to raise more questions about how much Mr. Clinton knew. 

Michael Galster, a medical practitioner who did contract work for the
prison system, has revealed to the Citizen that Mr. Foster once approached
him in the mid 1980s to ask for a favour. 

At the time, Mr. Clinton's administration and HMA were facing a
$12-million lawsuit from a prisoner whose infected leg had been amputated
at the hip in 1982. 

The inmate was claiming that poor medical care by an HMA doctor -- who
had been working in the prison despite being denied a permanent licence to
practice by the state medical board -- had resulted in the needless

Mr. Galster, an expert in prosthetics, says HMA's medical director had
asked him to build a special artificial leg for the prisoner in the hope that it
would lead to an out-of-court settlement. Mr. Galster refused to get
involved, and was visited several weeks later at his office by Mr. Foster,
who appealed again for his assistance. 

"The purpose of his being there was to convince me to take this, smooth it
over and everybody would be happy," says Mr. Galster, who has written a
fictionalized account of the prison-blood collection saga, called Blood Trail. 

"I refused him. He said, 'I understand your predicament, but this could
make it difficult for you to get a future state contract.' 

"If it's like the past state contracts I've had, I don't need any," Mr. Galster
says he replied. "He (Foster) kind of laughed and said 'OK, I appreciate
your time.' " 

It was the only time the two met, but Mr. Galster now says he believes Mr.
Foster was trying to protect both Mr. Clinton and HMA from public

The questions surrounding Mr. Foster became even more intriguing when,
several days ago, the New York Post published an article entitled "The
tainted blood mystery" by one of its columnists, Maggie Gallagher. She
reported on how the Citizen had broken a lengthy story in mid-September
about the Arkansas prison-blood scheme. 

Most significantly, Ms. Gallagher wrote that the story suddenly cast new
meaning upon "a strange little memory fragment" that had been "meaningless
in itself." 

Citing a source who asked not to be identified, Ms. Gallagher reported that
a day or two after Mr. Foster died on July 20, 1993, someone called a
little-known phone number at the White House counsel's office where Mr.
Foster had worked. 

"The man said he had some information that might be important," wrote Ms.
Gallagher. "Something had upset Vince Foster greatly just days before he
died. Something about 'tainted blood' that both Vince Foster and President
Clinton knew about, this man said." 

Mr. Foster's mysterious death spawned a political controversy from the
moment that police, responding to an anonymous 911 caller, found his body
in a national park in Washington, D.C. 

Police concluded that Mr. Foster had stood there coatless in the
late-afternoon heat, inserted the muzzle of an antique Colt 38. revolver into
his mouth and pulled the trigger. Immediately, conspiracy theorists began
spreading rumours that Mr. Foster had been murdered. But independent
counsel Robert Fiske (a special prosecutor who examined the Whitewater
scandal before being replaced by Kenneth Starr) conducted his own review
and agreed with police that it was suicide. 

It was believed that Mr. Foster had been suffering from depression and was
especially perturbed by a brewing scandal in which he was embroiled. In
the so-called Travelgate fiasco, Clinton aides had fired several veteran
White House travel-office employees as part of an alleged attempt to give
the lucrative travel business to Arkansas cronies. 

However, Ms. Gallagher's column has raised questions over whether Mr.
Foster was distressed about something he knew regarding tainted blood,
and whether this anxiety contributed to his suicide. 

In Canada, the summer of 1993 was a critical period. A Commons
committee, which had conducted a brief review of the tainted blood
scandal, had just released its report in May. Its first recommendation called
for a major "public inquiry" to conduct a "full examination of the events of
the 1980s" when the Canadian blood supply became contaminated with

Indeed, on Sept. 16 -- eight weeks after Foster's death -- the federal
government announced the public inquiry, to be headed by Justice Horace
Krever. During the course of his work, Justice Krever unearthed the
Arkansas prison-blood collection scheme and wrote about it in his final
report last year. 

However, no mention was made of Mr. Clinton until last month's story in
the Citizen, which drew on documents obtained from Arkansas State Police