By Rene Sanchez
She is a pivotal but still somewhat mysterious figure in the web of accusations engulfing President Clinton, and she loves playing hard to get.
For nearly a month, the brash, smoky-voiced book agent who coaxed her friend Linda Tripp into taping Monica Lewinsky's claims of a sexual affair with Clinton has shunned every plea to release copies of those tapes and has mostly ducked the media's blinding glare.
Instead, Goldberg remains burrowed in her elegant apartment building here on Manhattan's Upper West Side, revealing what she knows a few crumbs at a time, as nonchalantly as if she were feeding pigeons in nearby Central Park, and clearly reveling in the Washington scandal frenzy that she helped ignite.
"You have to be brain-dead not to be interested in this," she bellowed the other day. "And there's so much more to come!"
Goldberg, 62, seems to be one of the few characters in the unfolding Washington drama who is having a good time. Unlike many others, she is not emerging shaken or stone-faced from grand jury questioning. She is not exchanging harsh words about investigation leaks or alleged political conspiracies.
Rather, she is marveling at all the attention -- she logged 110 phone messages in just one day last week -- watching with glee as a president she disdains battles extraordinary charges of misconduct and toying with lawyers and the press.
"Lucianne is one of those people who takes great delight in this sort of thing," said Tony Snow, the conservative political commentator who several years ago introduced Goldberg to Tripp. "She has an almost Dickensian interest in human foibles. And she just can't take it all too seriously."
Goldberg contends that she has been offered as much as $2 million, from the National Enquirer, for her copies of Tripp's sensational tapes. So far, anyway, she's not selling.
A network news program, which Goldberg declined to name, has been sending her a weekly bouquet of flowers in the hope that she'll swoon for them, then talk. "I love when they get all warm and mushy like that," she says. "But it won't work."
One of the president's lawyers, David E. Kendall, also called not long ago to ask her if there was any chance she wouldn't mind letting him listen, just a bit, to some of the tapes. "He was quite the grand gentleman," Goldberg says. "But I hooted in his face."
She says that she received a subpoena recently from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, but that she has since been told by his office to ignore it.
"All I know is what's on the tapes, and they have those already," Goldberg said. "I had nothing to wear to a grand jury anyway."
Still, the precise role that Goldberg has played in bringing Lewinsky's allegations to public attention, and to Starr, remains murky, but potentially important.
She insists that all she did was advise Tripp to tape Lewinsky's incredible charges when the two women worked at the Pentagon, and claims that ever since then she has merely been a curious bystander. But others who know Goldberg's personal contempt for Clinton, along with her long-standing ties to political conservatives and her penchant for political mischief -- she was a $1,000-a-week spy for Richard M. Nixon's campaign in the 1972 presidential election -- are not so sure.
Once the secret taping of Lewinsky began, Goldberg arranged for Tripp to meet with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who had been investigating other sexual allegations about Clinton. Some are also questioning whether Goldberg had a hand in helping the attorneys for Paula Jones with their sexual harassment suit against Clinton.
The group bankrolling Jones's case, the Rutherford Institute, began receiving anonymous tips about Lewinsky from a female caller last fall, soon after Tripp began taping her. And the suggestion repeatedly arises that Goldberg was the one who called. Not true, she maintains, adding that she believes the charge is being promoted by Clinton's "slime machine."
"I have no ties to them, and I never made any of those calls," Goldberg said. "But even if Linda did, or if I did, so what? What's the problem? I don't see where it goes. They didn't need Monica Lewinsky to try to set Clinton up for perjury. They already had a lot on him. People really shouldn't overlook the cleverness of Paula Jones's lawyers."
In conversation, Goldberg speaks quite bluntly and has a habit of weaving her own speculation and the gossip of others into what she portrays as factual accounts. What often emerges are vivid tales that at once appear rooted in both fact and rumor.
On the tapes she has listened to, Goldberg said that Tripp and Lewinsky refer to "other girls" that Lewinsky also told about her alleged sexual relationship with Clinton. "Maybe it was one of them who alerted the Paula Jones people," Goldberg said.
Goldberg, who once worked as a campaign aide for Lyndon B. Johnson and as a White House aide for President John F. Kennedy, said that she last spoke to Tripp after her friend wore a wire for Starr and met Lewinsky at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City.
She said that Tripp called her by cell phone after the successful sting operation, as she was being driven by federal agents back to her home in suburban Maryland.
"She called me on the way back from it saying, 'They're going to shut me down now, they're changing my phone number,' " Goldberg recalled. "She couldn't really talk."
"So I said, 'Did you get the Vernon Jordan stuff?' and she said 'Yes!' "
"Then I asked, 'As much as you had before?' And she said, 'Even more!' "
Goldberg, who was the book agent for former detective Mark Fuhrman's bestselling account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, first met Tripp several years ago to discuss a possible book that both of them were interested in doing about Vincent Foster, the White House deputy counsel who committed suicide. Tripp was working as an aide in the counsel's office at the time. Goldberg also has tried to develop several other book projects detailing Clinton's alleged womanizing, but none of them has materialized.
From her Manhattan hideout, working contacts inside the Beltway and beyond by phone, Goldberg is still immersed in the presidential controversy. She trades gossip regularly with controversial Internet columnist Matt Drudge -- "I know him, I know everybody" -- and she keeps talking even though she says she is convinced her phone line is now tapped. "Big deal -- I have nothing to hide," she says.
For now, Goldberg is vowing to resist all overtures to appear on television, or to begin her own book project about the scandal. She also says she is keeping track of which reporters and media figures pester her the most so they can be snubbed later.
It is a game she relishes. As a reporter's conversation with her from a pay phone next to her apartment building was being cut short by a lack of coins last week, Goldberg couldn't resist one last taunt.
"Ha! Too bad you don't have any more nickels. Who knows what I'm about to say?"
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company