Lucianne Goldberg dishes on the Starr Report

The woman behind the Lewinsky scandal talks.

Published September 11, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

It's well before dawn in Manhattan but Lucianne Goldberg is already up and tapping away on her keyboard, sending out e-mails, monitoring the flashing lights on her telephone console, drinking coffee and smoking the first of her Larks from an 18-carat Dunhill holder from Harrods.

"His aides hate him," she types. "His party can't run away fast enough. His wife is packing every piece of portable government property she can lift."

Tap-tap-tap. You can almost hear her trademark whisky cackle through cyberspace.

"Word late p.m.," she types on, "is that Bruce Lindsey is about to be indicted for squeezing Betty Currie and the butler."

This is classic Goldberg. Translation: The president's closest aide will be charged with helping Clinton cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky, the 22-year-old temptress who relit the embers of Ken Starr's Whitewater investigation last winter, an investigation that ended up landing like a cruise missile on the Capitol Wednesday after shearing off the top of the White House along the way.

Lindsey, Goldberg says, put pressure on the president's Oval Office gatekeeper and side-kitchen valet to keep quiet. As insiders know, that will inevitably pop up on the Web site of cyber-gossip Matt Drudge, another name made famous by the wacko world of Zippergate.

One more thing, Goldberg says: "He's getting 30 counts of impeachment -- only one for eating macadamia nuts off the kid's stomach."

The kid, of course, is Monica, who everyone knows sobbed over the phone to Linda Tripp, the embittered ex-White House secretary, about the wavering devotion of "the Big Creep." At Goldberg's urging, Tripp taped the love-sick Lewinsky's whining, and the rest, as they say, is history -- the spotted dress, the cigar and, soon to come, sordid tales of sex-play with presidential neckwear, Goldberg adds.

"Some talk jock in Florida called and suggested the [National] Enquirer's next story is about bondage with neckties," she tells me. "This is all news to me. I'm supposed to be the authority, because I know what's on the tapes. But I" -- a note of indignation creeps into her voice -- "I never heard of the cigar stuff!"

"That came from grand jury testimony," she adds matter-of-factly.

In an interview with Salon on Thursday afternoon, as Starr's massive report worked its way down the gullet of Congress like a rat passing through a python, Goldberg surveyed all she had wrought with a measure of pride. Everything she revealed about Clinton and Lewinsky back in January had turned out to be true, she crowed.

"Every stroke of it. I said that this was gonna happen, that this was all true, that everything Linda said, and I said in her stead, would pan out. I said just wait, and you'll see. There's been some wacko stories out there, but they didn't come from this office," she insisted.

Now it's all over but the impeachment proceedings and book auctions. Offers for Lewinsky's first-person tale have reportedly reached $20 million. Goldberg's own client, Tripp, might fetch considerably less, I suggest, because the public largely sees her as "the office snitch."

"That's because we haven't had an opportunity to spin her!" Goldberg retorts. "I mean, c'mon!" She and her friend Linda, insists the agent, are "just two menopausal broads who've been fighting the biggest, most vicious slime machine in history. That's what it's been -- it's no exaggeration. They could make Mother Teresa look like a hooker, for Chrissakes."

Goldberg is no novice when it comes to Washington sex scandals. Twenty years ago this October, Goldberg popped up behind the scenes of another capital sex storm, this one involving a Russian defector and a call girl. Goldberg was the agent for Judy Chavez Taylor, a dark-haired Alabama beauty whom the FBI and CIA had hired to keep a smile on the face of Soviet diplomat Arkady Shevchenko after he defected.

Back then, that was a scandal. Goldberg went on to write five glitz-and-sex novels of her own, including "Madame Cleo's Girls," which was recently optioned by Hollywood.

Long before that, however, Goldberg was getting her first lesson in the game of down-and-dirty politics. As has been reported widely, the smokey-voiced, wise-cracking literary impresario was a Nixon spy aboard the campaign plane of George McGovern in 1972. Under the cover of reporting for the so-called Woman's News Service, Goldberg filed reports on the lifestyles of the McGovern staff and its Secret Service entourage to the late Nixon dirty-tricks master Murray Chotiner.

It's all a laugh to her now. How did Chotiner die? "I think he was run over by a truck driven by a man named McGovern," she cracks.

Goldberg will be remembered as one of the more colorful figures in the current scandal. She's gone from footnote to front page, and is savoring every minute of it. "The wheel's coming off this baby," she says of the Clinton presidency. "Just for the sheer fun of it," she adds, "I'd like him to hang on till the end."

By Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the coauthor, with Khidhir Hamza, of "Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon." He writes frequently for Salon on national security issues from Washington.

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