July 23, 2000
The O. J. Simpson case (IV):
How Al Regnery and I got together on the Foster book
Copyright © 2000 by Dan E. Moldea
Along with LAPD detectives Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, I am a co-author of the 1997 best-selling book, Evidence Dismissed: The Inside Story of the Police Investigation of O. J. Simpson .
The following is the fourth of a four-part series, explaining how I became involved in this project, and then how, through a remarkable chain of events, the Simpson case led to my seventh book, A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Created a Political Firestorm.
In the midst of our ongoing battle with Mark Fuhrman, attorney Ron Goldfarb, one of our two agents for Evidence Dismissed, called and told me that the publisher of Fuhrman's book, Alfred S. Regnery of Regnery Publishing, wanted to have lunch with me. Assuming that Regnery, whom I had never met, wanted to give me some grief about my damning public statements about Fuhrman, I agreed to the meeting, hoping to give a little back.
Regnery, a life-long conservative, had also published former FBI special agent Gary Aldrich's controversial book, Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House, as well as Boy Clinton: The Political Biography by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., the editor of the right-wing American Spectator; God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley, the publisher of the National Review; and Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind; along with works by Whittaker Chambers, James J. Kilpatrick, and James Burnham.
On Tuesday, March 25, 1997, at the University Club in Washington, Goldfarb and I met Regnery, who was accompanied by his executive editor, Harry Crocker, and legal counsel, Richard Vigilante. Looking for a fight, I showed up for this lunch like a guy with a broken beer bottle in his hand. Even before I sat down at the table, I was already going off about Fuhrman, insisting that, if his book was a sworn statement, he would be indicted again for perjury.
In lieu of being goaded into an argument, Regnery--who, properly but politely, told me to shut up and sit down--said firmly, "We're here to talk about Vincent Foster, not Mark Fuhrman. What do you think happened to Vincent Foster?"
"Suicide," I shrugged as I sat down, surprised by the question.
The former deputy counsel for the Clinton White House, Foster had been found dead on July 20, 1993, at Fort Marcy Park in northern Virginia with a gunshot wound in his mouth. The gun was still in his hand when the authorities arrived to document the crime scene. After accumulating and analyzing this and other evidence, the FBI and the U.S. Park Police, which had jurisdiction in the case, concluded that the wound was self inflicted.
Meantime, a variety of right-wing groups and individuals were still trying to claim that the crime-scene evidence indicated that Foster had been murdered, and that a cover-up by the Clinton White House was still in progress. I had no idea whether any of this was credible.
After admitting that I knew very little about the specifics of the Foster case, Regnery replied, "Everyone knows that you have great sources in the law-enforcement community. Why don't you do your own investigation about Foster's death, and write a book about it? We'll publish it."
That left me speechless. Here was a distinguished, politically-conservative publisher, offering a book deal to a street-fighting political lefty--who, by the way, had always prided himself on his objectivity as a crime reporter--about the controversial death of a major player in Washington politics.
Simultaneously, Regnery owned the rights to the book, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, by right-wing British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. A third of his manuscript, which Regnery planned to release in the fall, argued that Foster had been murdered. And to complicate matters even more, one of Regnery's closest friends--since their days together in the Reagan Justice Department--was Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who was reinvestigating the Foster case. Already, press leaks from Starr's office indicated that he would conclude in an upcoming report that Foster had, indeed, committed suicide.
Considering his conflicting interests, I asked Regnery what he thought had happened to Foster. He simply replied, "I don't know, but I'd like to find out. And that's why we're talking to you."
Actually, Regnery's approach to me wasn't the first time he had considered publishing a book about Foster's death.
In October 1996, Regnery had received a pitch from literary agent Lucianne Goldberg on behalf of her client, Linda Tripp, a secretary in Foster's office and one of the last known people to have seen him alive. Tripp had met Goldberg through her friend Tony Snow, a conservative columnist, who encouraged her to write the book, tentatively entitled, Behind Closed Doors: What I Saw at the Clinton White House. Supposedly, Tripp planned to reveal, among other things, untold details about certain events that had preceded Foster's death.
However, after Richard Vigilante, on behalf of Regnery, met with Tripp and Goldberg to discuss the project, he determined that Tripp was not prepared to tell the "full story" about the Clinton White House--which included her knowledge of the President's alleged sexual liaisons with specific unnamed women. According to Vigilante, she feared that, in the wake of publishing such a book, she might lose her job at the Pentagon, where she had been transferred after Foster's death.
Soon after rejecting Tripp's book, Regnery introduced Mark Fuhrman to Goldberg, who became his agent. Fuhrman, via Goldberg, pitched his own seven-page proposal for a book about the Foster case, Death in Fort Marcy Park: Who Killed Vince Foster, which Regnery also rejected.
Thus, the question in my mind was: After shooting down Tripp and Fuhrman's proposals--and with Evans-Pritchard's conspiracy book and his friend Ken Starr's pending anti-conspiracy report in the chute--why did Regnery want me? After all, in addition to being Lange and Vannatter's co-author, I was a former fellow at the left-wing Institute for Policy Studies and the author of a 1986 book that trashed Regnery's hero, Ronald Reagan.
Furthermore, although I had never done any reporting about the Clinton Administration, I believed that the President and Hillary Clinton, Foster's former law partner, were extremely intelligent people, who were filled with good intentions and had assembled the agenda and the personnel to deliver on their promises. Even though I had never contributed any money to, or participated in, any of his campaigns, I had enthusiastically supported Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. Also, in private settings, I had been quite vocal in my criticism of the extreme right of the Republican Party, which was refusing to cut the President any slack, blaming him for anything and everything.
By the end of our luncheon meeting, even though I appreciated his respect for my law-enforcement connections and the quality of my previous six books, I was still puzzled as to why Regnery had selected me for this deal.
To all intents and purposes, this project would be unlike any Regnery or I had ever tackled. I had to gauge whether, through the Foster case, I could be objective about a President I greatly admired while Regnery had to decide whether he could break with his tradition and publish a potentially positive book about a President he didn't particularly like.
Finally, in the wake of several additional conversations, Regnery and I agreed that the circumstances of Foster's death made for a unique crime story because of the political complications, which, we also agreed, were part of the story. Thus, we determined that the success or failure of this project would depend on our abilities--mine as the author, and his as the publisher--to remain independent and neutral in the midst of the supercharged political atmosphere hanging over this case.
Consequently, we decided that, ultimately, we needed to know:
a) whether Foster was murdered, or
b) whether the official investigators of the Foster case had simply erred in their crime-scene evaluations and, thus, unintentionally created controversies that should have never existed, as was the situation in the Robert Kennedy murder case, or
c) whether the investigators had done their jobs well but had been misrepresented by those with political or other ulterior motives, as was the predicament for Lange and Vannatter in the O. J. Simpson case, or
d) whether there some combination of b and c.
Despite our political differences, I had already grown to like and respect Regnery, as well as his feisty guerrilla approach towards book publishing. Certainly no match made in heaven, we, nonetheless, believed that we could make our alliance work. As a result, regardless of the still-unexplained reasons why he had selected me to write this book, Regnery offered me $100,000 for this project--which, he told me, was as large an advance as he had ever paid to any author.
On April 7, agreeing to accept the deal, I sent Regnery a memorandum, based upon my preliminary investigation of the Foster case, saying: "I appreciate the fact that you have come to me with this project without a political agenda. Knowing my background of reporting on crime and murder investigations--as well as my numerous loyal sources in the law-enforcement community--you have asked me to do this project for the sole purpose of getting to the bottom of this matter."
Two weeks later, Regnery and I signed our book contract, and I went to work on the Foster case, as well as on the seemingly endless scandals, real and contrived, revolving around the Clinton White House. Regnery designated Harry Crocker as my editor; Crocker was also the editor for Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's pro-conspiracy book. However, I also liked and respected Crocker, so his relationship with Evans-Pritchard didn't even bother me. My deadline was December 31, which was pretty tight, considering all of the research and interviews I had to do.
No doubt, Regnery's friends and colleagues, like mine, were scratching their heads, trying to figure out how this Odd Couple arrangement would eventually play out. Some predicted that we'd wind up exchanging gunfire or, at the very least, in court.
In addition to all of this, I was now supposedly competing with Mark Fuhrman, who was still trying to sell his own book about the Foster case. Consequently, before I plunged full-time into my project, I was determined to get to the bottom of the history of Fuhrman's relationship with Regnery, believing that therein would lay the real reason why Regnery had asked me to write this book.
In mid June, after executing the contract and receiving my advance, I took a top staffer at Regnery Publishing to lunch and asked him about the company's relationship with Fuhrman. Going over some familiar territory, the staffer explained that Al Regnery had sought out Fuhrman's book on the O. J. Simpson case, which nearly every New York publisher had already rejected. After making his deal with Fuhrman, Regnery breathed new life into the discredited former detective--who had been working in Idaho as an electrician's apprentice--by publishing and heavily promoting his work. In other words, Regnery was principally responsible for turning Fuhrman into a media star, as well a wealthy man.
The staffer added that, at the time that Fuhrman sold his Simpson book to Regnery, he had no agent. So, to help him negotiate a deal for his next book, Regnery introduced him to Lucianne Goldberg after Linda Tripp's book had been rejected.
All of this, I already knew.
But then, the Regnery staffer continued: Fuhrman's standard contract with Regnery for the Simpson book contained a common, boilerplate clause, which required him to give Regnery the first right of refusal for his next project. Thus, when Regnery rejected Fuhrman's seven-page book proposal about Vincent Foster, Fuhrman and Goldberg argued that he had fulfilled his obligation to Regnery and was now free to sell his work to a bigger, more prestigious mainstream publisher in New York.
Consequently--to the chagrin of Al Regnery, who had been completely supportive of Fuhrman and sincerely wanted to publish his future works--Fuhrman abandoned Regnery Publishing, as Goldberg made plans to sell his newly-rewritten, twenty-seven-page proposal about the Foster case to one of the New York publishing houses.
Arguably, Regnery should have been permitted to exercise his option on the basis of Fuhrman's latest and more detailed proposal. But Regnery probably would have been forced to litigate if he wanted to press the issue. In the end, he chose not to.
Suddenly, after my lunch with the staffer, I began to view Regnery's selection of me as the author of the Foster book, at least in part, as a blatant act of disrespect towards Fuhrman, whom Regnery had come to view as disloyal and greedy. Of course, considering my disdain for Fuhrman, I had no problem with any of this. As far as I was concerned, I had a legitimate deal to write an important book. And I believed that, regardless of Regnery's motives, he had picked the right guy for the job.
Still, the subsequent media coverage about the publishing dispute between Fuhrman and me appeared to confirm my suspicions about the reasons behind my selection.
On June 19, Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge published a story on his popular web site, The Drudge Report, "OJ's Fuhrman to do book on Vince Foster!", adding: "Fuhrman is due in New York next week to visit publishers to convince them to take a closer look at his second book than they did at his first."
At the time, I simply assumed that right-winger Lucianne Goldberg--whom I had once met at a 1981 book party for her then-client, author Kitty Kelley--had given the story to Drudge, another right-winger.
Six days later, reporter Mike Shain of the New York Post wrote an article, "Foster death book duel," saying:
O. J. detective Mark Fuhrman suddenly has competition in his search for the "killer" of Vince Foster.
Veteran mob reporter Dan Moldea, who has written a detailed and scathing attack on Fuhrman's portrayal of the Simpson case, has been hired to do a rival investigation into the death of President Clinton's former aide and friend.
"I don't consider Fuhrman competition," Moldea told the Post yesterday. "I've investigated more homicides than he has."
. . . So who hired Moldea to go up against Fuhrman? Regnery Publishing, publisher of Fuhrman's No. 1 best-seller, Murder in Brentwood.
Publisher Alfred Regnery says he approached Moldea to write a Foster book two months ago after turning down Fuhrman's book proposal. . . .
"They deliberately sought out a man who has attacked Fuhrman", says Lucianne Goldberg, Fuhrman's literary agent. "This is high school stuff."
But, the following month, in its July 7 issue, Publishers Weekly columnist Judy Quinn wrote a story, "Fuhrman Withdraws Vince Foster Proposal," which detailed Fuhrman's surrender. Quinn stated: "Regnery told PW he had been thinking about doing a book on the Foster case for some time, but felt that Fuhrman lacked the political-insider access needed to write it, so he rejected the proposal. Regnery didn't negotiate the deal with Moldea's agent, Ron Goldfarb, however, until after Fuhrman had submitted his proposal. . . . [Regnery] said he would still like to publish another book by Fuhrman, a suggestion Goldberg scoffed at."
Frankly, I was disappointed that Fuhrman's book hadn't sold, because I really, really wanted to go head-to-head with this convicted liar without my good friends, Tom Lange and Phil Vannatter, getting in the way.
Interestingly, a year later--in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in which President Clinton had allegedly lied about sex--Goldberg appeared on Larry King Live and was asked, "What do you say, Lucianne, to those who say, 'It's about sex, who cares?'"
Conveniently forgetting that her client, Mark Fuhrman, was still on probation for his 1996 perjury conviction, Goldberg replied, "Well, I'm getting a little tired of that one, too. . . . This is [about] swearing falsely, which is, to me, the worst crime in the world. Because to swear falsely, you have to ask God to be your witness."