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TIME On Politics
TIME magazine

Lucianne Goldberg: In Pursuit Of Clinton

By John Cloud

(TIME, February 2) -- Before last week, Lucianne Goldberg may have been best known as the author of a 1992 novel about a trio of high-class prostitutes, Madame Cleo's Girls. Readers may have come across other novels of hers as well, but not under her name: she has been a ghostwriter for celebs, a behind-the-scenes player who doesn't usually take the credit.

But when Goldberg turned out to be the brains behind Linda Tripp's scheme to tape Monica Lewinsky, she didn't even try to hide. Instead she said she was coming forward to defend a friend. Tripp, she said, "is heartsick." Speaking on Saturday at a frenetic news conference outside her New York City apartment, Goldberg added, "If somebody takes a hit at Linda Tripp, they will hear from me." She also expressed sympathy for Lewinsky, but her words struck many listeners as insincere, since the tapings have caused Lewinsky so much anguish.

Born Lucianne Steinberger in 1935, Goldberg grew up outside Washington, where her father worked as a government physicist. She wrote a gossip column for the local paper and worked for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. (Of L.B.J., she told PEOPLE in 1992, "He used to twist your nipple in the elevator and think it was a sexy move.")

At some point her political allegiances changed--Goldberg's spying on behalf of the 1972 Nixon re-election effort has been widely reported -- and she left politics for the more lucrative world of publishing. It was no less a shark tank: tell-all biographer Kitty Kelley, a former client, sued Goldberg in the early 1980s for fraud and other infractions in connection with Kelley's biography of Elizabeth Taylor. Although a judge overturned the fraud portion of the jury verdict against Goldberg, he awarded Kelley $41,000 in damages and costs.

During the Clinton years, Goldberg has been involved in publishing efforts that, if fruitful, would mortify the President. Goldberg has reportedly represented Dolly Kyle Browning, yet another woman alleging a Clinton affair (one debunked by critics). She also tried to get a book deal for the Arkansas state troopers who said they procured women for then Governor Clinton. Goldberg says she met Tripp in 1994 after she found an author to write a book about the death of Vincent Foster, which conspiracy theorists have deemed homicide, not suicide. Goldberg might be one of them. She has played part of the Lewinsky tapes for a friend, who describes them as "sexually explicit." The friend says Goldberg told him that the release of the tapes is "payback for Vince Foster."

Goldberg may have been trying to get the Lewinsky tale into the tabloids as early as last fall. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who helped break the current scandal, visited her apartment frequently. She isn't squeamish about blasting Clinton openly. "What I'm glad about is he's getting caught," she told the Washington Post. "At something. If it took this to get him, fine." If all the President's men come after her the way they've attacked Tripp, she added, "I'd be on the lawn of the White House with a deer rifle." She's prepared to weather criticism of her motives. "I can take the hits," she told CNN. "I'm a rich old lady."

--By John Cloud. Reported by Edward Barnes and Richard Zoglin/New York

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 2, 1998

Sparking The Scandal
Lucianne Goldberg: In Pursuit Of Clinton
Hot Off The Wiretap
Is The Prosecutor Running A Starr Chamber?
The Burden Of Proof
It's the Sex, Stupid
Truth or...Consequences
Oh, Behave!
In Defense of Matt Drudge
When Sex Is Not Really Having Sex
Enablers And Enforcers: The Two White House Cultures
The Reckless and the Stupid
The Notebook
The Master Fixer in a Fix
Ken Starr, Gumshoe
The Days Of Her Life
Politics Made Me Do It