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Literary Agent Was Behind Secret Tapes

Lucianne Goldberg/Ann Perryman for The Washington Post
Agent Lucianne Goldberg suggested that Linda Tripp secretly tape her talks with Monica Lewinsky. (Anne Perryman for The Washington Post)

By David Streitfeld and Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 24, 1998; Page A01

The woman who surreptitiously taped former White House intern Monica Lewinsky talking about an alleged affair with President Clinton did so at the suggestion of her literary agent, a fierce critic of Clinton.

Lucianne Goldberg, a friend of Linda Tripp, the former White House aide who did the taping, also helped bring the Lewinsky allegations to Newsweek magazine, according to a source with firsthand knowledge of the meeting.

Goldberg, 62, makes no secret of her anti-Clinton animus. "What I'm glad about is he's getting caught," she said of Clinton yesterday. "At something. If it took this to get him, fine." She said she had been "furious" at newspaper coverage of Clinton for the last five years because journalists did not do enough about Whitewater, "Hillary's phony stock deal" and other allegations of corruption.

If the president's lawyer had attacked her credibility the way he had Tripp's, Goldberg said, "I'd be on the lawn of the White House with a deer rifle." She added: "I'm a hero if this thing comes out the way my, quote, agenda would like to see it come out."

Reporters often rely on news sources who have some personal or partisan ax to grind. Several of the sources who helped push the latest White House sex scandal into the mainstream press do not like Clinton or are his legal adversaries. An examination of their motivation adds a new layer to the complicated tale of where the story came from and how it burst into view.

The Democrats, for their part, are trying to make Goldberg an issue. The Democratic National Committee is faxing to journalists a sheet of unflattering excerpts about the book agent -- which Goldberg's son Jonah called "a smear campaign against my mom." DNC spokesman Steve Langdon said that "what we have provided is already available publicly" and was faxed at the request of reporters.

The news stories could not have been written without some help from the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is investigating the Lewinsky matter. In fact, Newsweek has said that it delayed its story on the matter at the request of Starr, who feared his undercover probe would be compromised.

Other apparent sources are the attorneys for Paula Jones, who are affiliated with the conservative Rutherford Institute. It was Jones's sexual harassment suit against Clinton that produced the depositions in which both the president and Lewinsky denied having an affair -- sealed depositions to which only the lawyers in the case had access.

This is not the first time Goldberg has been involved in presidential politics. She worked for Lyndon Johnson during the 1960 presidential campaign. "When you're tall, thin, blond and have big boobs, you can have any job you want," she told People magazine in 1992. She later worked for President Kennedy's speech-writing staff.

Goldberg sold political intelligence to Republican operative Murray Chotiner, a confidant of President Nixon, during the 1972 election, when Goldberg was posing as a reporter on George McGovern's campaign plane.

Raised in Alexandria, she wrote a gossip column in high school, went to George Washington University and worked at The Washington Post as a copy aide in the mid-1950s.

Her biggest success as a literary agent was a book by former detective Mark Fuhrman, a controversial figure from the O.J. Simpson murder trial. It was a No. 1 bestseller. She has also represented a woman named Dolly Kyle Browning in trying to sell a thinly fictionalized account of an alleged romantic relationship with Clinton. Goldberg also represented Arkansas state troopers who wanted to write a book about their allegations of Clinton's womanizing when he was governor. Neither project was taken on by a publisher.

Goldberg first began representing Tripp on a proposed book about Vincent Foster, the White House deputy counsel who committed suicide in 1993. Goldberg had been looking for information about Foster for another client, and conservative columnist Tony Snow suggested that she meet Tripp. Tripp, who worked in the White House counsel's office, was one of the last people to see Foster alive.

When they met, Tripp said she wanted to write her own book. "It wasn't as racy as Gary Aldrich," said Goldberg, referring to the former FBI agent assigned to the White House whose memoir retailed gossip that the president was sneaking out at night for liaisons. But she said the administration "wouldn't have been happy."

Tripp's project never materialized.

Tripp grew angry at the White House when Clinton attorney Robert Bennett challenged her credibility after she was quoted in a Newsweek story last summer. Tripp had spoken on the record to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, saying she had seen another former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, emerge from the Oval Office with her lipstick smeared and clothing askew.

Tripp told Goldberg about Lewinsky, a colleague at the Pentagon and a former White House intern who said she was having an affair with the president. Goldberg advised Tripp to tape Lewinsky, to convince Isikoff of the story's authenticity.

"Isikoff would never have believed the story about Monica," Goldberg said yesterday. "[Tripp] said, 'What can I do? I don't have pictures, I don't have corroboration.' I said, 'You need to prove it. You've got to tape.' "

The tapes turned out to be crucial to Starr's investigation of whether Clinton lied under oath about the alleged affair or urged Lewinsky to lie about it. Tripp subsequently made other tapes of Lewinsky after Starr's office wired her with a body mike for a rendezvous with Lewinsky.

Goldberg said that tabloids have offered her as much as $2 million for copies of the tapes. "It's all very surreal," she said. "I don't have anything to sell. It's an agent's nightmare."

Describing herself as a "friend" of Tripp, Goldberg said: "This is someone who revered the White House. She thought it was Heaven on Earth under [George] Bush. . . . But suddenly it was taken over by these hordes of kids who played basketball in the hall and wore jeans to work. She's a proper lady."

According to the source with firsthand knowledge, Goldberg accompanied Tripp to a meeting last fall with Isikoff at the Adams-Morgan home of Jonah Goldberg. At that meeting, the source said, Tripp talked about Lewinsky's allegations and offered to play one of the first tapes she made of telephone conversations with Lewinsky, but Isikoff declined to hear the tape.

In weighing whether to publish the Isikoff piece last weekend, Newsweek President Richard Smith said in an interview earlier this week that he took into account that one key source was "opposed to the president." Said Isikoff: "Whatever the motivation of the sources, my primary concern was checking out the truth of the information."

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a former Bush White House staffer, also helped bring the Lewinsky story to public attention by mentioning the allegations Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Kristol said he had been called by people he has known for a long time who had heard the Tripp tapes. "They're not big fans of Bill Clinton," he said. But, he said, "they think the story's true and should be out," and they are not part of a "conservative attack machine."

Said Goldberg: "If there had been an organized conservative conspiracy, it never would have happened. If they couldn't do it in five years, they couldn't have done it now. It's not like they haven't been trying. You can't orchestrate this stuff. You can't make it up. There is a God."

Asked if Tripp plans to write a book, Goldberg said: "I hope she'll do one, if she isn't so demoralized by it all."


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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