Lucianne Goldberg: She Helped Expose President Clinton’s Affair With Monica Lewinsky

From a New York Times obit by Anita Gates headlined “Lucianne Goldberg, Who Helped Expose Clinton Affair, Dies at 87”:

Lucianne Goldberg, a colorful, conservative literary agent who played a pivotal role in the scandal that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, died at her home in Weehawken, N.J. The journalist Jonah Goldberg, her son, confirmed the death.

It was Ms. Goldberg who advised Linda Tripp, a Pentagon aide, to record her conversations with her young co-worker Monica Lewinsky, who as a White House intern had an affair with President Bill Clinton.

Those recordings became crucial evidence in the special counsel investigation that led to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment for lying under oath in claiming that he had not had an affair with Ms. Lewinsky.

Ms. Goldberg, a New York agent with a reputation for tell-all books and a presence that Time magazine once described as “a cross between Angela Lansbury and Jimmy Cagney,” happened to speak with Ms. Tripp one day in 1997 when Ms. Tripp knew she would later be speaking with Ms. Lewinsky, who considered her a confidante.

Ms. Tripp welcomed the idea of exposing Mr. Clinton’s behavior, but it had never occurred to her to tape her telephone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky.

Ms. Goldberg suggested that Ms. Tripp buy a tape recorder at Radio Shack. She urged her to persuade Ms. Lewinsky not to dry-clean or throw away a certain dress that held physical evidence of the affair. And she fed carefully timed revelations to the news media.

Over the years, Ms. Goldberg dealt with her share of high-profile clients.

They included Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles detective who wrote about the O.J. Simpson case in the best-selling book “Murder in Brentwood” (1997), and Maureen Dean, for whom she ghostwrote the novel “Washington Wives” (1987).

Ms. Goldberg represented “Teddy Bare: The Last of the Kennedy Clan” (1971), an exposé of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s fatal car accident in Chappaquiddick, Mass., by Zad Rust (a pseudonym for Michael Sturdza, a Romanian diplomat). When she handled Kitty Kelley’s biography “Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star” (1981), she neglected to pay the author for the book’s European sales. Ms. Kelley sued and won a five-figure settlement.

She was considered a go-to agent for writers peddling conservative fare. The author John Podhoretz, writing on the Commentary magazine website on Thursday, said that at one time she “was maybe the only agent in New York” representing conservatives.

But it was the Clinton scandal that guaranteed Ms. Goldberg her place in political history. She always contended that she was motivated primarily by concern for Ms. Lewinsky, whom she saw as a classic case of a young woman being taken advantage of by an older, married man. And that was also, she said, the way Ms. Tripp saw it.

“She was very fond of Monica,” Ms. Goldberg said. “She honestly thought that she was saving Monica’s life.”

Lucy Ann Steinberger was born in Boston, the third child of Raymond Leonard Steinberger, a physicist, and Lucy Jane (Moseley) Steinberger, a physiotherapist. The family soon moved to Alexandria, Va., outside Washington.

Lucy Ann (a spelling she later changed to Lucianne) dropped out of high school in Alexandria to work in advertising sales. She later received a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.

Ms. Goldberg often told people that she had been a copy assistant at The Washington Post, but The Post reported that she had been a clerk in the newspaper’s promotion department from 1957 to 1960. She married her high school sweetheart, William S. Cummings, in 1957 and opened a public relations firm, Lucianne Cummings & Associates, in the 1960s.

“I’ve never joined any publishing associations or groups, because I don’t like having other people tell me what to do,” Ms. Goldberg said in 1998.

She worked for Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign in 1960. She and Mr. Cummings divorced in 1963. In 1966 she married Sidney Goldberg, a news-syndicate executive, and they were together until his death in 2005.

Her experience with political dirty tricks began in 1973, when a political adviser of President Richard M. Nixon’s paid her $1,000 a week to pose as a reporter to gather inside information on Senator George McGovern’s campaign for president.

Before the Clinton scandal, Ms. Goldberg was the author or co-author of four books. “Purr, Baby, Purr” (1971), written with Jeannie Sakol, was an anti-feminist manifesto that suggested that women think of their bodies as “a switchboard with all sorts of lovely buttons and plug-ins.”

The other three books were novels. “Friends in High Places” (1979), written with Sondra Till Robinson, focused on a doctor manipulating her former lover. “Madame Cleo’s Girls” (1992) told the story of three high-priced escorts (Kirkus Reviews called it “lightly amoral”), and “People Will Talk” (1994) looked at a tabloid gossip columnist’s legacy.

She had no aversion to the tawdry.

“I love this stuff!” Ms. Goldberg told The New York Times in 1998. “And so do the millions of people who buy these books.”

She was happy to let other agents handle highbrow work, she said, adding, “I wouldn’t know literary stuff if I fell over it!”

Ms. Goldberg was considering a book on Vince Foster, the Clinton lawyer whose suicide in 1993 was the subject of conservative conspiracy theories, when an associate recommended Ms. Tripp as a source.

That book never happened, but by 1995 — the year Ms. Lewinsky began her White House internship — Ms. Tripp was developing her own book proposal. The working title, according to CNN, was “Behind Closed Doors: What I Saw Inside the Clinton White House,” and one proposed chapter heading was “The President’s Women.”

When Ms. Tripp reached out to Ms. Goldberg with the Lewinsky story, Ms. Goldberg saw only one way to prove it.

She assured Ms. Tripp that the recording of conversations with only one party’s consent was legal. It was — in the District of Columbia and in 39 American states. But Maryland, where Ms. Tripp lived, was not one of them.

Eventually Ms. Goldberg turned over more than 20 hours of audiotapes to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, which led to Mr. Clinton’s 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, voted not to convict him, and he remained in office for the rest of his term

The story continued to fascinate the public. The FX series “American Crime Story” devoted its third season, which aired in 2021, to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, with Margo Martindale as Ms. Goldberg.

In later years, Ms. Goldberg turned to political blogging. Her report was an aggregation of news articles with pointed commentary. She led a 2022 post with a cartoon showing an Olympic torch labeled “Biden misinformation lies fraud deceit.”

Ms. Goldberg took personal abuse for her part in the Clinton scandal. In his book “American Rhapsody,” Joe Eszterhas referred to her as “the bag lady of sleaze.” She never made a dime from the scandal, but she considered herself too savvy to be a victim.

“Let them take their best shot,” she told Time magazine in 1998. “I can take a truthful slime.”

“You have to be bulletproof to survive something like this,” she said in the same interview. “And there is enormous freedom in not caring whether people like you.”

Also see the Washington Post obit by Brian Murphy headlined “Lucianne Goldberg, who leaked tapes at center of Clinton impeachment, dies at 87.” The opening grafs:

Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent and conservative provocateur who took on a Machiavelli-style role in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton by encouraging a former White House aide to secretly tape Monica Lewinsky discussing her affair with the president, died at her home in Weehawken, N.J.

Author and political commentator Jonah Goldberg confirmed the death.

For decades, Ms. Goldberg had cultivated a reputation as brash, brassy and sharp-tongued in her takedowns of progressive causes. As a younger woman, she co-wrote an anti-feminist manifesto called “Purr, Baby, Purr” and said she had been a spy for President Richard M. Nixon’s campaign in his 1972 reelection bid. Later, after a long career writing or ghostwriting sexy potboilers and representing such authors as Kitty Kelley and discredited Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, she delighted in taking aim at Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Ms. Goldberg carried such a big personality that there were always questions about whether her right-leaning political sentiments were genuine or a kind of performance art. Either way, her place in the Clinton scandal made her, to some, a conservative hero.

At the suggestion of conservative columnist Tony Snow, former White House aide Linda Tripp had first contacted Ms. Goldberg about a possible project on White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster, whose 1993 death was ruled a suicide but remains a focus of conspiracy theorists. Tripp was reportedly one of the last people to have seen Foster alive and was deeply shaken by his death. The project fell through, but Tripp then tried to sell a tell-all White House memoir highly critical of the Clintons before telling Ms. Goldberg that the president had an affair with a former White House intern.

“And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ you know the kind of agenting that I did, I heard a lot of wild stuff, and people have to prove things,” Ms. Goldberg said in an interview for the 2020 PBS show “American Experience” on the Clinton years.

Tripp said she had conversations nearly every day with Lewinsky, who had left the White House and was working with Tripp in the Pentagon’s public affairs office.

“And I said, ‘You say you talk to her every day — how about taping your phone conversations?’” Ms. Goldberg recalled.

Ms. Goldberg even suggested the type of tape recorder: a Radio Shack model like the one she kept on her desk at her Manhattan office. Tripp wasn’t sure.

“She always was reluctant,” Ms. Goldberg recalled to The Washington Post in late 1998. “She said, ‘I think it’s kind of sleazy.’”

Ms. Goldberg pressed Tripp and reportedly assured her the taping was legal, even though recording someone without the person’s permission is illegal under the law in Maryland, where Tripp lived at the time. Yet the recordings became a centerpiece for special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, whose probes of Clinton began with allegations over improper real estate deals in Arkansas but mushroomed into a blanket inquest on the Clintons.

The tapes became key evidence in Starr’s probes and led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House in December 1998 on charges that the president had lied under oath when questioned about the affair with Lewinsky and obstructed justice. The Senate acquitted Clinton in February 1999.

“I’m not ashamed of it,” Ms. Goldberg told PBS about her role. “I’m proud that I knew the truth. That once I knew the truth, I got the truth out. … This was a great national soap opera.”…

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