As his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee drags into its third day, the picture of Brett Kavanaugh is becoming somewhat clearer. But a Princeton professor writing in a New York Times op-ed on Wednesday added a seedy new layer of context to Kavanaugh’s place during Bill Clinton’s administration, when he was apparently obsessed with pursuing a favorite right wing conspiracy theory.
Ahead of the publication of a memoir by Kenneth Starr, who served as independent counsel during the probe that eventually led to Clinton’s impeachment, history professor Sean Wilentz writes that he dug into Kavanaugh’s files in the Office of Independent Counsel records, which are housed in the National Archives. What he found was Kavanaugh, who served as as associate independent counsel to Starr, convincing his boss to reopen the investigation into White House Counsel Vince Foster’s death.
Foster had a history of depression, and killed himself in a federal park in Virginia in July 1993. But his death became fodder for right wing conspiracy mongers, who claimed Foster was murdered as part of a White House coverup of the Whitewater real estate scandal. By the time our likely next Supreme Court justice got his hands on it, multiple investigations had found that Foster’s death was indeed a suicide, per the Times:
Judge Starr’s predecessor as independent counsel, Robert Fiske, had looked into unfounded claims that White House Counsel Vincent Foster, who committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park in 1993, had in fact been murdered as part of an alleged White House cover-up related to Whitewater. After a thorough investigation, Mr. Fiske concluded in 1994 that there was nothing to the conspiracy theories and that Mr. Foster, who suffered from depression, had indeed killed himself. Official accounts by the United States Park Service in 1993 and by Republican Congressman William Clinger, the ranking member of the House Government Affairs Committee in 1994, came to an identical conclusion, as did a bipartisan report of the Senate Banking Committee early in 1995.
But shortly after the Senate report came out, Kavanaugh pushed Starr to reopen the probe yet again, citing “allegations” his death was “related to President and Mrs. Clinton’s involvement” in the scandal. And just who could’ve whispered those disproven allegations in Kavanaugh’s ear? Citing files at the National Archives, Wilentz reports that it was a who’s who of conservative wingnuts, some of whom are still active on the scene today:
One was Reed Irvine, a self-appointed debunker of the “fake news” of mainstream media. Another was Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an English author of a book entitled “The Secret Life of Bill Clinton” that posited that the Oklahoma City bombing was an F.B.I. plot gone awry. A third was Christopher Ruddy, today the chief executive of Newsmax and confidante of President Trump, but at the time on the payroll of the right-wing tycoon Richard Mellon Scaife to promote conspiracies.
Although Kavanaugh wrote in notes that he personally believed Foster’s death was a suicide, he still pushed the investigation on for three years at a cost of some $2 million, a process that involved such far-fetched ideas as scrutinizing carpet in the White House and harassing Foster’s bereaved friends and family. The professor recounts in the Times:
As inventive as they were vindictive, these partisans concocted all sorts of wild theories to explain why Mr. Foster could not have killed himself. According to one of Mr. Kavanaugh’s sources, Mr. Foster had been working for the National Security Agency and was being blackmailed by the Israelis over a secret Swiss bank account. Carpet fibers had been found on Mr. Foster’s clothing, which was proof positive that he was murdered, his body wrapped in a carpet and then dumped. Another charged that “long blonde hairs” on Mr. Foster’s clothing pointed to a cover-up.
He investigated the Swiss bank account connection, down to examining Mr. Foster’s American Express bills for flights to Switzerland. He meticulously examined the White House carpets, old and new. (By now, Mr. Foster had been dead four years.) He sent investigators in search of follicle specimens from Foster’s bereft, blonde, teenage daughter. (“We have Foster’s hair,” one agent working for Mr. Kavanaugh reported in triumph.)
Mr. Kavanaugh apparently took a special interest in Hillary Clinton’s bruited affair with Mr. Foster, a popular rumor in the fever swamps of the right. As he reported, his investigators “asked numerous people about it,” before he decided to ask Mrs. Clinton herself.
We already knew Kavanaugh poses an existential threat to Roe, is riding high on a torrent of support from conservative dark money donors, and uh, really, really does not want to answer questions about the Federalist Society. Now we know he’s good at taking directions from the worst fever swamps of the right as well.