A Secret Service officer on Wednesday flatly contradicted the White House account of the night of Vincent W. Foster Jr.’s death, telling the Senate Whitewater panel that he saw Hillary Rodham Clinton’s top aide remove files from Foster’s office. The aide vehemently denied it.
Testifying under oath before the special Senate committee investigating Whitewater, the officer, Henry P. O’Neill, said he saw Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Margaret A. Williams, carrying two handfuls of folders from the office of Foster, the deputy White House counsel, into her office on July 20, 1993, several hours after his body was found.
Williams, who testified that she went to the White House that night after being called twice by the first lady, said she was drawn to a light in Foster’s office in the irrational hope that she would find her colleague still alive.
She said she went inside and wept as another aide looked for a suicide note, but that she did not remove any material from Foster’s office that evening. To support her position, she produced the results of a lie-detector test.
Asked if he was certain that he had seen Williams carrying folders out of the office that night, O’Neill replied: “I’m not in any doubt about it, sir.”“I took nothing from Vince’s office,” she said.
O’Neill’s testimony is critical to the thesis of Republicans and other critics of the administration that the White House and possibly Mrs. Clinton placed obstacles in the way of the probe into the circumstances of Foster’s death by having sensitive files removed before investigators arrived.
But several Republicans, as well as one Democrat, John Kerry of Massachusetts, also questioned Williams about her decision on July 22, after investigators had been inside Foster’s office but prevented from looking at any papers, to transfer personal files of the Clintons to their living quarters rather than go directly to their lawyer. Williams conceded that it was not a rational decision, but that she had been emotionally drained.
And she insisted that Mrs. Clinton never asked that the files be sent to the residence. The White House has said the first lady did not examine the files between the time they left Foster’s office and the time they arrived at the office of the Clintons’ personal lawyer.
Other evidence was introduced on Wednesday that raised questions about Miss Williams’ account of why the papers were moved to the residence. The Republicans’ counsel, Michael Chertoff, said that Tom Castleton, a junior aide who helped Miss Williams remove the files on July 22, said in his deposition had he had been told by Miss Williams that the folders were being sent to the residence so that the president or first lady could review them.
It was the disclosure last December that files had been removed from Foster’s office that set off the furor that led to the appointment of an independent counsel on Whitewater.