By George Lardner Jr.
When her husband, 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern, started a speech by flubbing a joke, the president's men were quickly notified.
And when McGovern was mortified one night in Chicago by an introductory speaker who complained of the McGovern campaign's lack of spirit, it was reported back to Washington by midnight. "McGovern looked as though he could crawl under the table," the Nixonites were told after the Oct. 10, 1972, dinner.
The urgent reports, delivered to the White House by special courier, came from a $1,000-a-week spy planted in the McGovern press corps. Nixon, his White House tapes show, referred to her by her code name, "Chapman's friend."
But the agent's real name was Lucianne Cummings Goldberg, now back in the news as the book agent behind the taping of former White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky's account of her alleged relationship with President Clinton.
At $1,000 a week, a gigantic salary for a reporter in 1972, Goldberg recalled in a brief interview this week, "I was practically stealing because all I had were dirty jokes and gossip." She said Nixon "loved the dirty jokes and who was sleeping with who" even though it was "mainly techies sleeping with stewardesses."
Only about 30 of Goldberg's reports to the Nixon camp show up at the National Archives today, and the only bit of salacious gossip in these concerns Goldberg's contention that Eleanor McGovern had collapsed on the campaign trail more than once, the first time having been in New Hampshire "when she heard that George was having fun with someone else."
"Absolute and total fiction," George McGovern said with a laugh this week. If it had been true, "I would have been the one who collapsed." He said he never had time for any "fun" in New Hampshire or anywhere else. "I never worked so hard in my life," McGovern said. "I didn't even get to jog or stop to play golf."
Eleanor McGovern said she did collapse in Cleveland on Oct. 19, 1972, as Goldberg reported, but called the rest of the account "idiotic."
The records at the National Archives do suggest how heavily Goldberg has relied, throughout her career, on getting it all down on tape. As she put it in a 1973 interview with the General Accounting Office, her job "was to be a human tape recorder, passing on a verbal report of everything that happened in the McGovern campaign."
Goldberg didn't type up her reports, even at day's end. Instead, she told the GAO investigators, she phoned in as often as five or six times a day, with a "wrap-up call at night." She started out just after Labor Day in 1972 as a representative of the Women's News Service and freelance book writer and was assigned a seat on the "zoo plane," the No. 2 plane in the McGovern entourage, so named by reporters because it carried mostly TV cameramen, technicians and newspaper photographers -- the "animals" of political campaigns.
According to Goldberg, she didn't have to show any credentials to get her McGovern campaign tag. "I showed up at McGovern headquarters and there were three kids in ponytails and sandals," she said this week. "They said, 'Who do you work for?' I think I said I was writing a book. They said, 'Groovy.' "
Actually, Goldberg was the second spy codenamed "Chapman's friend" to be assigned by the Nixon camp to infiltrate the Democratic opposition. The first was Seymour K. Friedin, a journalist who spied on various Democratic presidential campaigns for the Nixon White House until September 1972, when he got a job as London bureau chief for the Hearst newspapers. Nixon's longtime political adviser, Murray Chotiner, then hired Goldberg to replace him. She says she was recommended by conservative writer Victor Lasky, an old friend of her husband.
White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and a few other Nixon advisers were informed of the changing of the guard in a Sept. 5, 1972, memo from Chotiner.
"We have a new Friend who joins the McGovern troupe tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 6, in Dallas," Chotiner said, attaching a list of journalists traveling with McGovern and his schedule for the next few days. "Nothing further available now."
In the days that followed, though, Goldberg kept her tape recorder busy, talking and talking into it on the plane, on the tarmac, and at McGovern rallies. Her sometime seatmate, the late Merrill "Red" Mueller, an ABC radio news reporter, said in 1973 that his suspicions were aroused when Goldberg, ostensibly a columnist and book writer without urgent deadlines, kept running for the phones at every stop, but was told that "she checked out" when he relayed his concerns to the McGovern people.
As Goldberg recalled it, her constant calls went straight to Chotiner's law office in Washington, where "they just kept some poor woman sitting up until 2 a.m.," typing up her reports. "Then a car would pick them up and take them to the White House."
Some of those reports may have been destroyed before they got to the National Archives or even to Watergate prosecutors, according to researchers in charge of Nixon's records and related Watergate prosecution documents. Only about 30 of Goldberg's "Chapman's Friend Reports" can be found in the two collections. Goldberg's spying became public in August 1973 when she told about it to Washington Star-News reporter Bob Walters, a friend of hers. Records showed that she had been paid $8,000 in salary and an additional $11,932.35 in travel expenses; Chotiner paid her with law firm checks and was repaid by the Finance Committee to Re-Elect the President on vouchers he submitted under his own name for "survey expenses."
Watergate prosecutors considered charging Finance Committee officials with election law violations for making the payments without proper documentation but decided they could never prove criminal intent, especially in light of Chotiner's death Jan. 30, 1974, from injuries sustained in a Jan. 23 traffic accident.
"He was killed in a head-on collision with a truck on Shirley Highway and the name of the truck driver was George McGovern," Goldberg recalled this week.
That isn't quite right, however. The accident took place on Chain Bridge Road in McLean in front of the home of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). The only McGovern involved in the accident was Dr. Joseph D. McGovern, no relation to the presidential candidate, who was driving a car against which Chotiner's Lincoln Continental came to rest after being hit by the truck.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
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