The Goldberg Variations: Philip Weiss Tapes Lucianne Goldberg

After U.S. News & World Report published a startling report quoting one of the tapes made of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky by Linda R. Tripp, I called Mrs. Tripp’s friend Lucianne Goldberg, for the seventh time in seven days, to beg to hear the tapes that she has. “The high offer I have is $2 million and the low offer is $350,000–and they were stretching,” Mrs. Goldberg said. I offered her lunch on Broadway and she laughed at me.

The literary agent continues to be the focus of enormous media attention. In the premiere issue of Brill’s Content , she is blamed for all but creating the investigation into the President’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. On Matt Drudge’s new Fox News Channel show, she appears wearing a black ribbon because, she says, she’s in mourning for America under Bill Clinton. On the Internet, she addresses her supporters as “my pretties” and mocks White House mouthpieces as “sock puppets.” Meantime, friends of the President have launched a campaign against her credibility. Why do you trust anything that woman tells you? they say in anonymous messages on my answering machine. After I failed to get the Monica tapes out of her, I settled for taping Mrs. Goldberg, in what she said has been her most thorough interview.

“Have you been glorying in this?” I asked.

“No, and I’m annoyed by when people say ‘Lucianne is exhilarated.’ I am angry and my anger sometimes comes out. Now I sound like Kathleen Willey, because she said when she’s nervous she sounds ‘exuberant.’ I’m not nervous. I’m determined because I think that our side is right, that some really nasty stuff has gone down, and Linda Tripp tried to tell the world about it, and then she had to go into hiding and I was left out there with the information. And I have not lied to anyone about anything.”

“What about the semen-stained dress?”

“That is a true story. I’m not going to tell you all the details. That isn’t my information to disseminate. However, there was a cocktail dress that she [Monica Lewinsky] was saving that was stained. And who has it now, I do not know.”

“Is that gossip, Lucianne?”

“No, that’s fact.”

“You didn’t see that dress.”

“No, I did not. It’s hearsay, O.K., but it was told to me by someone that I believe implicitly that has never lied to me and has no reason to lie to me. The press has seized on that because it is so sensational … I didn’t leak that story, I told that story to a reporter in the very first days, because we were being drowned, and I thought, God, I gotta get their attention, they don’t know how bad this is. And I thought, what’s the most ick-making thing I’ve heard so far and that was right up there.”

“A person you believe implicitly, you mean Linda Tripp.”

“I’m not saying who I’m talking about.”

‘Spikey’ Isikoff and Me

“How’s your relationship with ‘Spikey’ these days?”

Spikey is Lucianne Goldberg’s moniker for Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff.

“I like Spikey. I’m getting along with him. I don’t think Linda felt they treated her fairly … They said she wore stiletto-heeled boots. They had her dressed up like some Vegas hooker. She doesn’t own stiletto-heeled boots. She’s suffering now because she’s isolated. And you have John Goodman playing you on Saturday Night Live , that’s rather a blow to one’s self-esteem.”

“She didn’t like that.”

“None of us would. Somebody once told me of the Gabor sisters, you could say that they slept with donkeys and they would just go la-dee-da. But if you said that their dress was the wrong blue and they had a big stain on the back of it, they would sue you until they had every penny you’d ever made.”

“What about the fact that Americans at some level seem to hate Linda Tripp?”

“A lot of this stuff that’s being disseminated by the other side is provided to cover up the fact that this hurts terribly. When you love a man, and these people who are pro-Clinton love him, when you revere a man and he’s one of your generation, and he’s you, and he does something like this, it is painful, and they don’t want to hear it.”

“But if Linda Tripp died tomorrow, the way people would talk about her was, ‘She taped her friend.’ And she did.”

“Exactly. But they don’t know the story, and I am proscribed from telling the whole story. Because one day soon, Linda Tripp will be free and everyone has the right to their own story, and I’m not going to do anything but nibble around the edges of it, to keep their attention, and hopefully open a few minds to where the same American people that are being fair to Bill Clinton in these polls will turn around and be fair to Linda, at least they will listen to her.”

“What about Brill, is any part of this a Goldberg conspiracy?”

In his “Pressgate” piece, Mr. Brill suggests that Lucianne Goldberg’s desire for a book deal was the impetus for the entire Lewinsky investigation.

“I don’t know that that case can be made with anything but laughability. I didn’t mean for it to come out this way. I wanted Linda in better shape to defend herself. And the way it came out, if Newsweek had brought it out–that’s why it’s so ludicrous to say I was the source for Drudge, the last thing I wanted was for this story to come out earlier than Newsweek bringing it out. That’s why we sat down with Isikoff. I wanted it to come out in a respected news publication.”

“You didn’t want it in Matt Drudge?”

“I would not.”

She’s Mrs. Portnoy in the Making

“What about the new Monica we see in the latest issue of U.S. News & World Report ? This is a shrewish Monica, a Mrs. Portnoy in the making.”

“That’s bang-on.”

“I hate to say it, but that’s not very good for the Jews, right?”

“There are two questions I ask: ‘Is it good for the Jews?’ and ‘Will it make me sweat?’ Is it heavy lifting? And it’s not good for the Jews, and it should make the rest of the world sweat when they realize how ambitious and pushy and needy and clever this kid is.”

“Do you know this girl from the tapes?”

“I know this girl from having been alive for 62 years. This is every wife’s nightmare, that this girl will get your husband in the cross hairs and aim at him. I very seldom feel sorry for Bill Clinton, but he didn’t have a chance.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s such a pushover.”

“It’s shocking to read that this girl was going to kick the testicles of the President flat as a pancake.”

“Well, this girl has a real maggoty mouth. Every third word is a swear word. I can say that because I swear like a teamster. It’s quicker. But I’m a different creature.”

“Brill says you were trying to make a book deal for Linda. What’s the deal?”

“Down the line, I may do just that. But when she came to me, this was not about a book deal. But you see, that has always been the White House disinformation, too, you know, evil money-grubbing Mrs. Goldberg, hint hint, wink wink, in New York City, wink wink, is doing in the President just to make a crummy gossipy book. That is all spin and it has nothing to do with why Linda came to me. I always think book. You know, I’m a literary agent. That’s what literary agents do.”

“Do you think there’s anti-Semitism here?”

“I always think there’s anti-Semitism.”

“But you’re not Jewish.”

“But people I love are. My two sons are Jews, my husband is a Jew. What, I’m not going to look for anti- Semitism in the world? My daughter-in-law is black, I’m not going to look for that kind of stuff in the world?”

“You grew up in Virginia, Episcopalian. Still Episcopalian?”

“I still believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t go to Episcopal services anymore because they’re so dull.”

Imagine Monica in Young Frankenstein

“Do the Clinton people know what is on those tapes?”

“I don’t think they do. Because I think they would have leaked more of it now. Because I will guarantee you, without being specific, that the [ U.S. News ] tape is the milder of the tapes.”

“Mild. This is a 24-year-old girl being highhanded with the President.”

“She didn’t see him as the President. That wonderful line from Young Frankenstein : ‘He was my boyfriend!’ She saw him as her married lover. She had absolutely no respect for the office whatsoever. She called him ‘the big Schmucko,’ and worse.

“What could be worse than kicking him in the balls?”

“There’s one tape in which every sentence contains an ‘s’ word or an ‘f’ word. It’s just vulgar. This is a girl who is so angry and so hurt and does not have a mature vocabulary or self-knowledge to demonstrate that to an older friend. See, these tapes were made at the time he was dumping her.”

“I don’t think he’s good at saying No to anybody.”

“He was not calling her anymore, not inviting her over to the White House anymore for, ha ha, a movie and hugs.”

“Do you have sympathy for her?”

“No. Because I think she’s enjoying this. She craves attention, she’s very needy. In her fantasy life, we all have a fantasy life, I think she felt this kind of attention would be just the right amount.”

What Will Madeleine Albright Do?

“What will happen if hard evidence of an affair comes out?”

“Well, that’s the question. What’s somebody like a Madeleine Albright going to do, who says, ‘I believe him’? People are going to have to start leaving him, because he is going to take an awful lot of very good, decent people down with him. “

“Do you think he will go down?”

“I don’t know at this point. I think he will be humiliated and discredited. But he’ll be a lame duck after November. And I think he will just limp along wounded and bleeding and a laughingstock, and nobody will listen to him, and as a country we will suffer dreadfully from it.”

“So it would be best if he would just go?”

“Well, of course. At least Nixon had the class to see that. Look what hanging on these last five months has done to this country. We’re all screaming at each other. We’re all saying blowjob at dinner parties. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m old enough to be shocked by that.”

“But it’s your fault, isn’t it, Lucianne?”

“It’s not my fault. No. Fault is a pejorative. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet.”

“What if Starr can’t make a case on obstructing justice?”

“Starr has so much that they don’t know about, that it will blow them away. Not the sex. The sex is a foregone conclusion.”

“But let’s say it’s just a guy lying about having an affair with a 24-year-old. People can excuse that.”

“He is the President of the United States, he sets the moral tone for this country. And your kids will turn on you and say, ‘The President does it, why can’t I?”

“That’s not a scenario where he’s definitely out.”

“No, but he’s wounded and humiliated, his wife is humiliated and his credibility is totally besmirched. I mean, he came out yesterday, it was Father’s Day, made a statement, Fathers raise their children to be honest, one of those boilerplate things. All that becomes laughable. And I tell you, you are never dead in politics until they start laughing at you.”

“Is the country coming around to your point of view?”

“I don’t think so. The polls don’t reflect it.”

“With Nixon, they switched to a negative point of view.”

“That may happen to Clinton, but we live in a different time. Because I have friends whom I love dearly who don’t have a problem with his having a little oral sex dalliance in the Oval Office. They say that’s our boy, ha ha ha. I say I don’t feel that way and let it go. I’m not here to convince anybody. I’m not proselytizing. I want to get information out that is irrefutable, that the office of the Presidency has been slimed, and this guy did it, and a lot of decent people have been roped in to cover up for him.”

“What do you think about Brill?”

“I begrudgingly admire Brill because I admire tough-mindedness. I think he got something caught in his zipper because of this piece, and he’ll be damaged because of this. But he will survive. He is very tough-minded. He fights back, he slam-dunked Tim Russert yesterday [on Meet the Press ]. He took his punch and he threw a better one. He said, Do you ever apologize for a mistake? If you’re on those shows, there are certain lines you don’t cross. And one of the lines is to counterpunch your host. And he’s not afraid to do that.”

“Did he deceive you to get you to talk to him?”

“He did deceive me.”

(Mr. Brill declined to respond to Mrs. Goldberg’s comments.)

“What does that make you think?”

“Well. Why should I be special to Steve Brill? You know. I’m the fool that sat down with him. I let him push my buttons. I wanted to believe that he really was going to look into who leaked my secret divorce records to U.S. News .”

“Did Brill make you think he was going to write your side?”

“I thought he was going to write the facts that I told him, and he didn’t … He had an overarching view, and it made it a far more interesting story to have me and Linda, these two dragon ladies and what kind of fools are these people who don’t realize that this whole thing was over a book deal. It’s an egregious oversimplification, but it made a tighter, neater spine for his story … We had far more noble motivation. And there is no book deal. Where is the big book? Linda hasn’t been writing a book these last five months.”

“How do you know?”

“I know. I’m in touch with her lawyers and her friends. I’m not saying that down the road if she has an interesting enough story and can put it together, I wouldn’t represent a book for her. But that’s after the fact.”

“If you were free to talk to her tomorrow and she said I want to do a book–”

“I’d say, ‘Start typing.'”

Linda Tripp: ‘Very Motherly’

“Why did you tell Tripp to tape Monica?”

“She was going to sit down with one of the crackerjack reporters in this country, Spikey, and she had very little evidence for this hair-raising tale she was going to tell him. I said, ‘You don’t have pictures, you don’t have corroboration, you don’t have anything to back you up. All you’re getting sometimes is 15 and 20 phone calls a day.’ This girl would track her down at her gym, at her hairdresser, when she was at a picnic with her family, she hounded Linda the way she hounded the President. Because Linda was sympathetic to her. Linda’s a very motherly person. And Linda got ensnared by this creature. And I said, you cannot sit down with Isikoff unless you have some kind of proof. And she said, ‘What can I do?’ And I said if your basic contact with her is on the telephone, tape it. And she said, ‘Oh, God, I feel so sleazy.’ I said, ‘Look, this whole thing is sleazy.'”

Zuckerman’s Oral Sex Whoppers

“This was after the Willey incident where she was enraged?”

“Yes. Because [Bob] Bennett had called her a liar on national television. He said Linda Tripp is not to be trusted. I tell you I didn’t blame her at all for her fury … I’ve been slimed. The Times tried to do an over-lunch with me at the Four Seasons. I did that. With Judith Miller and Doreen Carvajal. We were at the Four Seasons and seated at the banquette and I look up and there, chest-high to the table, is Mort Zuckerman. He says hello to Judy, hello to Doreen, he gives me a whitefish handshake. And without further introduction, he launches into three oral sex jokes. Clinton oral sex jokes. Unfunny and three lines apiece, and poof, he’s gone. I said to Judy Miller, that was a very bizarre performance. She laughed. I guess they’re friends. I assume all liberals are friends and play softball in the Hamptons. The next thing I know, Whammo, U.S. News does a piece that includes my sealed divorce record. It was very surreal.”

“When you said that this woman ensnared Linda the way she ensnared the President, aren’t you creating a dragon-lady image?”

“I’m not creating any image of her at all. I am telling you what she is from my knowledge of Linda and having heard those tapes.”

“Who snared who? Didn’t Tripp ensnare her?”

“Linda was in her office, she saw her every day. And Linda doesn’t have a big social circle. She had a telephone. Monica could reach her by phone, she knew she would be home, unlike some of her cute little contemporaries, they were all out in the club. Linda was always there to listen to her whining and keening.”

“Why didn’t she shut her up? She was interested?”

“Well, of course. I would be, too. If somebody was giving you–you should excuse it–a blow-by-blow description of her romance with the President of the United States, you wouldn’t want to listen? Nobody would want to hang up on that.”

‘He Can Move Into a Bordello’

“What do you think of men who play around?”

“I think in some cases it’s justified. I don’t think it’s right. But I’m willing to hear their story if it affected my life at all.”

“What if their spouse doesn’t find out?”

“Then they hurt themselves eventually, in their own conscience. Now some people don’t have a conscience. I don’t think Bill Clinton has a conscience. And he doesn’t understand that he’s done something wrong. Let him fool around when he retires from the Presidency. He can move into a bordello. No one cares. But his job is to maintain a high moral standard for the kids of the country. That’s what we elect him for.”

“What do you think of Matt Drudge?”

“I think he’s one of the most quirky, original, different creatures to show up on the scene virtually in my lifetime. I think what you see is what you get. He doesn’t pretend to be anything that he isn’t, and I find him extraordinarily refreshing. So he gets a few things wrong, so did Walter Cronkite. He’s a very brave kid.”

“Is there any seriousness there?”

“He’s far more serious than I am. He’s serious as cancer, this kid. He sees himself as a patriot. He sees this as trench warfare.”

“Do you like surprises?”

“No, I don’t like surprises. But I do like justice and I do like the truth. And to be conned by the President–I can take being conned by a senator or a minister, because you kind of expect it. I don’t want to be conned by the President of the United States.”

“What if the President invited you to a White House dinner?”

“This President, I wouldn’t go. Because it would be hypocritical. I’ve spent six years criticizing the man.”

“Would you take his phone call?”

“That would be very tempting. Out of curiosity, I guess I would.”

“Would you tape him?”

“Yeah, I probably would. It’s legal in New York.”