The Clinton production team interviewed over 60 politicians, journalists, and influential players of the Clinton years. In a Facebook poll asking whose interview they wanted to see on the website, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE fans voted for literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who helped Linda Tripp bring the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the attention of the media.
In the 1980s and 90s, Goldberg promoted several conservative party tell-all books such as "Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-up" by Leo Damore. After advising Tripp to secretly record Lewinsky talking about her intimate relationship with Bill Clinton, Goldberg brought the tapes to the attention of both Newsweek journalist Michael Isikoff and the lawyers investigating the Paula Jones case.
In the interview below, Goldberg discusses her role in the scandal.
Producer: Let's start with a little bit of your background and particularly, you have an interesting story of your first encounter with presidential politics. Can you tell us more?
Goldberg: Depends how far back you want to go.
Producer: Let's go back to Nixon.
Goldberg: Oh, Mr. Nixon. Well, I had been involved in politics through high school and college and so forth, but at one point during the '72 campaign I was asked if I would like to fly around on Mr. McGovern's plane -- not Mr. Nixon's plane -- and send back reports at night, which I did. And they went directly -- there was a car waiting and they went, somebody typed it up and took it directly to Mr. Nixon, and I just kept doing that for eight weeks. And then a year went by and a fellow from the Washington Star at the time put two and two together and went, wait a minute, I think that was Luci on that plane so that got a lot of publicity at the time. I don't think I was very helpful.
Producer: So on and off you've been involved in politics, publishing and so on. We come to 1993 and Bill Clinton has won the election, is moving into Washington. I wonder if you'd tell us -- you're from the conservative, republican point of view -- how Clinton was seen in Washington as he's entering in '93?
Goldberg: Well, I was in New York at the time, and I was a literary agent and because I was a conservative and married to a conservative newspaperman, we were terribly concerned about -- we were just shell shocked from Watergate and from, you know, the end of Nixon and so forth. So there were a lot of writers around who couldn't find work. I mean, they were White House staffers, they were former Cabinet officers and so forth, and no agent would represent them cause most of the agents in New York are liberals. No publisher would publish them except for a little one in Washington called Regnery. So if you wanted to sell a conservative book, you pretty much were limited to going to Regnery.
Then, it started to open up over the years, but that's how I got a lot of conservative-minded writers to represent. So that just went on until somebody came to me who had worked in the Clinton White House and said, "I want to write about what a travesty the behavior is in the Clinton White House." And that's how it all started. And that was a lady named Linda Tripp.
Producer: I'm going to get to that in a minute, but I just sort of want to kind of get a sense of how Clinton was seen by -- I mean I know that you weren't in Washington or part of the kind of punditry in Washington, but from your point of view as someone who had been a conservative and was well known to other conservatives and had your feelers out and was talking to people, was there a sense of this guy as being sort of-- well tell me, what was the sense?
Goldberg: The sense was him being a used car salesman. There's a sense of a guy being a charming hick. He was loathed because, first place, I think we've all known somebody like Bill Clinton and we don't want them to be President of our country. I think it took us a long time to get to know him, and it didn't mean we liked him any better once we got to know him. And the wife was terrifying as well. So it was a double header.
Producer: In what sense was she terrifying?
Goldberg: Well because she wasn't the traditional First Lady. She did kind of wing it on changing her name, you know; for a long time she wouldn't use her married name, which was still a no-no in politics then... I think it would be now too -- we wouldn't accept a First Lady who didn't take her husband's name. But she was pushy, she was humorless, she was-- she couldn't get her hair figured out. There were just so many things about Hillary that we didn't like. All of it superficial of course, but, you know, that's life.
Producer: Republicans had been in the White House for decades. Was there a sense of almost illegitimacy about Clinton's presidency from the beginning, in the early part?
Goldberg: Well, there may have been, but I don't think it was any question that he won, I mean you had the Ross Perot factor, but even so. No, I don't think we thought of him as illegitimate. We just wanted him to go away, and we knew he wouldn't.
Producer: My sense of it is -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that the dislike that many Republicans and conservatives had for Bill Clinton went beyond what a normal partisan feeling would be. In other words, there was something personal about this guy.
Goldberg: Oh, yeah.
Producer: Someone expressed it to me as being... he defeated a man who was a better person than he was in George Bush. What was your sense of it?
Goldberg: Well, then you get into the whole snob thing of, you know, who's a better person? Who comes from a better family? There's always going to be that around, but Clinton was seen as a hick -- which is probably not fair. I mean there's certainly, I'm sure, some Nobel Laureate material in Little Rock, but they didn't send us somebody like that. Yeah, there was a class thing I think, I don't think it amounted to a great deal, but they didn't like him. They just did not like the man.
Producer: Let's flash forward to when you entered the story. As I understand it, it was your friend Tony Snow that actually made the connection. Tell me what you remember from your first meeting with Linda Tripp.
Goldberg: I found her very intense. See a lot of people don't know this -- I only saw her twice in my life, you know. I never, never-- was not her friend, and suddenly I'm thrown out there as her very best friend forever.
But she was very serious about her job. She was very serious about working at the White House. It was an enormous honor to her. She had worked there for Bush 41, and she had been Tony's secretary when he was there. She was more than a secretary. She was like office manager, and the speechwriters thing, and then she stayed on when Clinton came in, and she was absolutely-- she was an army brat, she was dedicated, she was serious about her job, and she was horrified about the Clintons. She was just appalled, and she wanted to write about it.
So Tony said, "Why don't you call my friend Lucianne who's an agent, and she handles, you know, people on the right side of politics?" And that's how it started.
Producer: What was her gripe? How did she express that to you? What was she upset about in the White House?
Goldberg: She was upset about his behavior with women, cause Monica was not the only one.
Producer: At first, what does she say to you?
Goldberg: She had a great pile of paper that described all of the chumminess, the political back scratching, the cronyism, the lack of protocol, the coffee stains on the rug. I mean it was everything. Everything you can imagine, and she didn't like the way-- she kept herself busy, and as many of the women who worked there did, watching what Clinton did all day long. And he was very active, shall we put it that way.
Producer: And that offended them?
Goldberg: Yeah, sure that offends women all together.
Producer: Did she compare him to Bush? Because she was very admiring of Bush.
Goldberg: Yeah no, there was no real, no real comparison.
She didn't like what she called the brats, you know, the George Stephanopoulos types, the young turks that came in and left pizza boxes all around. She had a very deeply ingrained sense of protocol, and that was being abused and she didn't like it.
Producer: That's an important point. The sense of the White House that she portrayed to you was what? And putting Clinton's behavior towards women aside, the general sense of the way things were managed and handled in the White House?
Goldberg: Well, there was a saying at the time that when it came out, what had been going on in the Oval Office -- and I don't know who to quote, I would like to, who said that Ronald Reagan put on his jacket to walk into the Oval Office and look what Bill Clinton's been doing on the rug. So it was that sense of-- that this is the best that this country has and it requires -- it demands -- the best behavior, and Clinton was walking in there in this running shorts with a girl he'd been running with and then disappearing behind a door, that kind of thing. And that is deeply, deeply offensive to people who work where a butler brings you tea, and she was just fed up. She was deeply angry about it.
Producer: So she was proposing what?
Goldberg: Well she was proposing that she write a book and tell the story of the comparison between the Bush 41 White House that she had known and the Clinton White House.
Producer: And what happened to this project, I mean did you encourage her or...?
Goldberg: Well sure, I said, "What you have to have is a proposal and three sample chapters," which is the basic package for selling a book. She got a ghostwriter to help her with that cause she was not a writer -- I mean everybody has a ghostwriter. And it just didn't pan out, it didn't come in well, and we had words. And I think in the Starr report there was something that she had-- she was getting very demanding and I said, "Oh for God's sake who do you think you are, the Queen of England?" And I hung up and I didn't talk to her again for a year. And I mean I say that to everybody all day long as an agent, you know the King of England, the Queen of England... it was just a project that wasn't getting off the ground.
Then a year passes and Tony Snow called me again and said, "Remember the girl that I sent you that wants to do the book about the Clinton White House? Well she's really got a story now." So, I mean, I'm human. I wanted to hear that story, and I was interested. I sell books. That's my job. That's how I earn a living. So we got back together again.
Producer: What happens then?
Goldberg: Well, she called me and she said, "He's having an affair with a girl who's 23 years old." 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. So she said, "No I'm not kidding you. He's having an affair with a-- and I know the girl, and I talk to her every day."
And I said, "Well can you prove this? Do you have pictures? Is she willing to step forward? Is she willing to go on the Today Show and say...?" And she said, "Well no, I'm sure she wouldn't. This is a big secret. And, some secret." And I said, "Well you got to do something to prove to me so I can prove to a publisher that this wild story was true." And I said, "You say you talk to her every day, how about taping your phone conversations?"
And she agreed that that would be a cool idea, and she went to Radio Shack and bought a tape recorder and plugged it into her phone.
Producer: Now, Linda Tripp had already been in the middle of a few important events. I'm talking about the travel office incident. She may have been the last person to see Vince Foster alive.
Goldberg: I think she was.
Producer: Probably was. Is that just coincidence or has Linda Tripp got a sort of proclivity for getting herself in the middle of these kinds of things?
Goldberg: Well I don't want to speak for her, as I said, I only met her twice, I'm not her best friend. But I don't think that's unusual that you see things going on. She was very fond of Vince Foster. Loved him dearly, and it just broke her heart when that happened. I don't know. Yeah, she was involved with Willey, Kathleen Willey. As I say, I can't speak for her, but she certainly was making life interesting for me and for her.
Producer: You mutually decided that a tape recorder would be a good way of documenting this. How would you characterize, having learned of this relationship, what was the relationship like between the two women?
Goldberg: Between Monica and Clinton well it's-
Producer: No, between Monica and Linda.
Goldberg: Oh, and Linda. It was a very close relationship. Mind you, by now they both worked over at the Pentagon, and it was very much a big sister-little sister, mother-daughter relationship. And she would tell her everything. But you have to understand, women in love are a little wacky. And they will, particularly if it's somebody who's incredibly important or a celebrity or -- and every detail is important to them. Every detail has to be mulled over and discussed, and so a lot of the tapes are pretty tedious. But it leaves no doubt about what was going on.
Producer: But Linda was, for whatever reason, was encouraging that kind of an exchange. She would play that role.
Goldberg: Well sure, she was taping it, but I mean she would have been asking those questions whether she was taping it or not. She genuinely cared about Monica, but there was one-- if I may speak for her, again, there was one overriding emotion, and that was what Bill Clinton was doing and, I'm telling you, this was an angry woman.
Producer: What do you mean what Bill Clinton was doing?
Goldberg: With Monica.
Producer: She was outraged?
Goldberg: Oh yeah, she was beyond, I mean beyond outraged. This was something just visceral with her, and of course the more I listened to the tapes, the angrier I got. You know, this was a nasty bit of business.
Goldberg: Because this girl was clearly being destroyed. He was running such a number on her. And I don't think there's a woman alive -- and I'm an old lady, and I can tell you that it never changes -- there is always, in every woman's life there is one four-flushing guy who runs a number on her and who breaks her heart. And who tells her things are going to be different than he knows they're going to be. So when other women hear that they go, "I've been there. I know how that feels."
And this is the President of the United States and this is a 23-year-old kid. But I've been there. I've had a boss that did that to me. I had a girlfriend's boyfriend that did that to me. It's just one of humanity's, you know, nasty little cesspools, and we were in the middle of one, but it happened to be with the President of the United States and a 23-year-old kid, who was a very sweet girl. I never met her, but a very sweet girl from what I could-- I mean I listened to hours of her conversations, so I feel I know her.
Producer: You said a little while ago Monica Lewinsky was in love.
Goldberg: Monica Lewinsky was desperately in love. I mean she was-- and I mean again, he may have, I'm sure he was very fond of her. This thing went on for what, a couple of years? And she at one point saw herself pushing his -- she even said it -- pushing his wheelchair. Because as life would go along Hillary would leave him, and she would be with him off into fantasy land. So, that was the situation we were in.
Producer: You say that he was running a number on her. I mean the subtext is, I just want to clarify, he was using her.
Goldberg: Oh, absolutely.
Producer: Tell me in your own words, these fantasies of hers -- he was doing nothing to disabuse her of them, I guess?
Goldberg: No, nothing and even building on them and giving her little gifts, and they would have phone calls and he would call her at 3:00 in the morning, there was phone sex involved. This girl was interminably available. I mean, she would have pitched a tent under his desk if she could have. And he wanted to keep that around, I mean who-- what guy wouldn't? What dishonest guy wouldn't? But he knew he could summon her at any time and she would be there.
Producer: What was your sense of Linda's motivation? You mentioned she was outraged. Was there a financial component? Was it protection, was that offered at one point?
Goldberg: No, protection against what?
Producer: I'm talking about the reasons for the taping. At one point she was worried about a physical threat to her. In your memory what--
Goldberg: Linda wanted the world to know about this. And I think the motivation was no deeper, no more shallow than that. That was it. She wanted the world to know about this relationship. And I know at one point it was reported that she was trying to protect Monica, and that somebody had put the death list on her -- the chair of her office. I mean those stories just go around and the media. I know because I spent a year of my life feeding the media, they were desperate for any kind of, you know.
This was a great national soap opera. They wanted any little tidbit, any little nugget, and yet when I went on television and told them a nugget about how Monica was signaling Clinton -- that she was on message by wearing a hat that he had given her, and he would signal her back by holding a press conference and wearing a tie that she had given him. So they were talking to each other through the media, and I knew that and during an interview I said it on TV, and they were so busy thinking -- well, Chris Matthews was so busy thinking about his next question he never heard me.
And after the show was over, my phone was going crazy and people were outside the studio saying, "That's a great story." And I said, "Well, tell them." I just gave it to them and he didn't even notice.
Producer: Once this began and you started listening to the tapes, did you have an immediate sense of how explosive this was?
Producer: You knew?
Goldberg: Absolutely. I mean to the point where I just went, I gasped when I heard the first tape I just-- I played it for a couple of colleagues and they went, "Holy cow, if this gets out..." But you know looking back -- and what has it been 10 years now, 12 years, it seems like such innocent times. It really does.
Producer: Why was this such explosive material beyond the relationship?
Goldberg: Well, I think -- if I may be simplistic about it -- that a lot of Bill Clinton's charm was sex appeal, and men kind of resented that and women liked it. And they thought, "Wow, here's someone you can really see what's going on," you know, virtually. And I mean that was intriguing. There's a reason people watch, you know, reality TV now or read juicy novels.
Producer: Did you have a sense though that this could be ruinous to his presidency?
Goldberg: Oh sure -- I knew it very likely would impeach him, and I was glad about that. That didn't bother me at all.
Producer: So this was in the service of a book project, but it also then became -- before it even became public, it became part of a set of legal machinations. How did this go from you to the Paula Jones lawyers who needed to know about this before a deposition they were going to give?
Goldberg: Because somebody was informing the Paula Jones lawyers.
Producer: Give me the whole set up.
Goldberg: The way it went from my telephone and her tape recorder to the public in general or into the legal stuff it got into was that Paula Jones' lawyers were being informed as we went along with it. Not by me, but they knew every move that was being made. And there was a real time thing here that he was about to testify, and they knew he was going to lie about Monica and that was, if you want to call it, the trap. And they were calling it that -- they were saying it's an impeachment trap.
Producer: Do you know who was informing them?
Goldberg: Yes I do.
Producer: Who was informing them?
Goldberg: Well, when they die I'll tell you. I don't rat people out. I can't. It wasn't me, no.
Producer: You didn't talk to the elves, as they're called. Mike Isikoff-
Goldberg: Well, you know who started that was, it wasn't Mike Isikoff -- it was Anne Coulter called them the elves. And she was an elf, and George Conway was an elf, and I was an elf, and then Drudge became an elf, and it was a gag more than anything, but no it wasn't, that's where they -- Blumenthal and Hillary -- made this into a conspiracy, cause these elves were getting together and conspiring, and it wasn't like that at all.
Producer: But were you in contact with George Conway or --
Goldberg: As a friend yeah, sure. He's the one that told me to call up Drudge when Isikoff's editors -- I never felt more sorry for a journalist in my life than I did for Mike Isikoff. He had worked his fingers to the bone on this story and they just deep-sixed it.
And I was mad. You know I got the call from George. George told me and Michael told me. He said, "They aren't gonna run with it. They're afraid of it. They don't like it, nasty stuff. They don't want to do it." And I said, "Well what am I gonna do?" I'm sitting on this thing, and a couple of people said, "Call that Drudge." I said, "Well tell him to call me." So at 11:00 that night he called me and that was it. It went kaboom.
Producer: Why were you interested in either Isikoff or Drudge having the story?
Goldberg: Well, in the first place I wanted Newsweek to have it. Because it was mainstream media and I wanted it. You know, I wanted the story to get out because I'm selling a book. You have to understand that. It was that as much as it was a political thing. It was nice that it was a political thing, because I didn't happen to agree with the Clinton administration. But I wasn't doing it for that reason. I was doing it because I was selling a book. I was representing a client.
So I knew if the story broke huge in Newsweek -- I mean, this would be a cover story on Newsweek -- that people would start calling Linda, and Linda would say, "Call my agent." And they would call her agent, and her agent would make a book deal, and then would make some money, and she would get a little money, and I would get 10 percent of it, and that's the way the world works.
The irony here is that Linda Tripp never made a dime and I never made 10 percent of her dime. Nobody made any money on this. Nobody.
Producer: But the hope was that by leaking a little of it or some of it to an Isikoff or a Drudge, it would generate interest for the buyer.
Goldberg: That was the whole idea. To get the story out, use that as a hook to get publishers interested, and sell a book. It was that simple.
Producer: Again for Linda, it was both things. It wasn't just selling the book, nor was it just outrage. It was a kind of combination -- is that a fair thing to say?
Goldberg: Yeah, it was her whole life.
Producer: It was her whole life?
Goldberg: At that point it was. She was totally absorbed, and I was too, pretty much because the world wouldn't let me not be.
Producer: But before this breaks, let's say, does Linda become preoccupied with the Monica relationship and what she's hearing? I can't imagine she wouldn't be. But, I mean, characterize how big a part of her life this became.
Goldberg: An enormous part of her life. But by the time Drudge broke the story, that was it. The taping stopped. I mean, the cat was out of the bag, Monica knew what Linda had been up to.
Producer: That part stops a lot of people cold. They're willing to understand why Linda might want to publicize this out of outrage, out of political motivation, whatever it is, but what it was going to do to Monica is where people begin to wonder. Did you think about that, did you talk about that with her?
Goldberg: Yeah, I don't think we thought it was going to be harmful, that harmful to Monica, really didn't. It made Monica a star, and if she had wanted to handle it differently if she had -- had she been a different kind of person -- I mean look at the girls that were being paid to sleep with Tiger Woods, they're going to have their own TV shows, and Monica could have been, you know, could have been just about anything she chose to be.
Producer: But it was at a minimum a betrayal of her confidence.
Goldberg: Yeah, sure.
Producer: Of her friendship. Did Linda not pause on that front?
Goldberg: She may have, but she didn't pause in front of me. She wanted me to sell a book. That was what she was looking for from me.
Producer: Do you know the route by which this went from the Paula Jones lawyers to Ken Starr?
Goldberg: I don't think I know how it went -- but Ken Starr had already been, I mean I haven't refreshed this stuff in 10 years -- he had already been appointed Special Counsel, right so--
Producer: It's okay if you don't--
Goldberg: Yeah, well, it was after the publicity, after the Drudge that Starr found out about it. Because that was right before the testimony. Right before Clinton had to go and testify.
Producer: So Linda begins to tape record these conversations. What happens, you're listening to them with her and what is the --
Goldberg: No, she taped for several weeks, I believe. And then she said, "You really should hear the tapes." So I went to Washington and I stayed at my son Jonah's apartment, and she brought the tapes over and she asked Isikoff to come and listen to the tapes. Isikoff did not want to listen to those tapes. He really didn't. I mean, I think he saw some ethical problems, too, if he listened to them ahead of time.
But he believed her. He saw the tapes and so at the time we really didn't know what we would do with them. But she threw them in a tote bag that I had. And we went on about our business, and the next day I went home and it wasn't until some time later I realized, ah, I have two of those tapes and that's when I listened to them. And then I thought, "Oh boy, here we go."
Producer: What was the sort of idea of what would happen at that point?
Goldberg: Well, it was complicated by the fact that when Drudge broke the story, Kenneth Starr and his guys in the black hats moved in on Linda Tripp, and I mean they arrived at her home, her suburban home, and said -- and I had called her just at that moment, and the caller ID came up and he looked down at the phone and said, "There'll be no more talking to Lucianne Goldberg." And I never spoke to her again. Never. I have never spoken to her since. That was the end of it.
So, there I was out on the end of this pier, and I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know who was doing what to whom. They took Linda, they frog-marched her off to some hideout someplace, some safe house, and I just had to wing it. I mean I had -- my door was being -- FBI was at my door, they wanted those two tapes. They couldn't have been sweeter. I mean they were nice as they could be. And then suddenly I had Hillary's lawyer calling me, and all I could do was just tell them over and over again what I knew up to that point and that was it. But it was a year of doing that.
Producer: Before it is broken by Drudge and goes viral, to put it mildly, what was your time table? What was your plan? You had her, the two of you, she was taping these conversations, what was the notion of what was going to take place?
Goldberg: The notion was to get it out as soon as possible through the mainstream media. She had already established a friendship with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek because he had run a little blindish item about Kathleen Willey, so they knew each other, and she was working with him. She was talking to him a lot more than she was talking to me. And when he and I started speaking, he was not too happy about my trying to sell a book because I would glom all this information that he wanted to use. Which is fine with me, I didn't care how it got out. So what we did was that we just narrowed our view to Mike Isikoff, and what he was gonna write, and then at the 11th hour when he said, "I can't, my editors won't let me run the story," that's when we went viral.
Producer: Were you prepared at all for how quickly and how explosively this blew up?
Goldberg: I knew it would be huge. I mean I had been around long enough to know that this stuff -- and this was as big as you can get, I guess. I didn't think -- I mean my picture was on the front page of the Washington Post the next morning. Mind you Drudge called me at 11:00 at night, and my picture -- fortunately it was one from a book I had written that was-- the picture was taken about 20 years ago and it was a great picture. So at least I had that advantage.
They didn't-- they weren't that pleasant afterward. But no, I had no-- I was stalked, I was-- one of the major money tabloids had a van full of reporters down in front of my house for two weeks, and they kept calling and saying, "We have a check for $50,000 here, come and get it, come and get it." And then people hiding in my washroom, and it got scary after a while.
Producer: Did Linda ever express to you a desire to be subpoenaed by the Paula Jones--
Goldberg: Yes, yeah.
Producer: Tell me about that.
Goldberg: She wanted to be right up until-- that was at the very end of all of this when everything was happening at once. She wanted to be subpoenaed so she could tell the truth. Because she was convinced that Clinton was not going to admit to the Lewinsky thing and would thereby have perjured himself. So she and Monica wanted to be subpoenaed too. And I can't remember now -- the subpoenas did go out. You're much more in touch with this story, but they did go out, and I don't -- Linda did not testify, did she? To the Grand Jury, but not to the, that Saturday thing that Clinton-
Producer: No, she didn't, no. I think she gave a deposition to the Paula Jones lawyers before.
Goldberg: That's right. Yeah yeah.
Producer: Before the Saturday thing. Were you aware of the dress at all? Did she tell you that she had--
Goldberg: She had told me about the dress long beforehand on the phone.
Producer: What had she told you?
Goldberg: Linda said she had been to the apartment and Monica had shown her a dress that had been stained, and she said she was gonna give it to her mother and have it dry cleaned. And Linda said, "Don't do that. Keep that dress." And she said, "Why?" And she said, "Because that's proof that the two of you had a relat- and if you ever, you know, if you're gonna get in trouble and you're gonna have to testify and you're gonna get charged with perjury and you're gonna this and you're gonna- you've got that dress."
Producer: Fantastic advice.
Producer: This woman was no dummy.
Goldberg: Oh no no, never. I mean not her worst detractor ever said she was dumb but -- and you know where that dress -- I was curious. I asked someone -- one of the Starr lawyers once what had ever happened to that, and it's cut up in little pieces in a baggy at the FBI on a shelf.
Producer: Bill Clinton after the Saturday deposition had some interviews, famously, with [Jim] Lehrer on PBS he essentially, not essentially -- he denies everything. What did you think watching that?
Goldberg: Well I don't know as I had any particular reaction to it. I knew he would deny it. That's his personality, was to deny something even when they catch you doing it. If I can jump ahead a little bit, my first real reaction was when he stood up and said, "I did not," and I was watching with a friend in my office and I said, "That is it, this man is dead meat. That is it, because I know that he's lying and if I know that he's lying then the rest of the world is gonna know he's lying."
And that -- I can't think of anything in public life that shocked me -- that he would go that far with the wife standing there and it, you know, with the world watching and say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." And I thought, "How can he?" You know, I, figuring out Linda's motivations in my mindset is nothing compared to figuring out how a man could do that. I don't get it. To this day I don't get it. I guess it's the thinking of, "If I deny it I'm so popular and so well loved, if I deny something long enough it'll come true. And everybody'll believe me and I'll go about my business."
Producer: Was he, in your opinion, someone who just was a congenital liar or was someone who just couldn't admit to himself? I mean how do you answer that question, how could he?
Goldberg: I don't even try. I just keep watching other people do -- we have a president now [President Obama] who has a certain sense of denial. People are endlessly fascinating, and that, I mean, that was his personality he came up with -- no dad and a mother, absent mother that wasn't around. But there's a lot of similarities between the current president and Clinton, family-wise. But I think that was just his personality.
Producer: So, that moment where he says "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" obviously inflamed Ken Starr as much as it did you, and eventually he is confronted with irrefutable evidence and he has to admit. Do you remember watching his address to the nation after he testifies in front of Ken Starr's Grand Jury and he finally says I did it?
Goldberg: Yeah, and I thought, "He's not a broken man, he's been backed against the wall, and he has to admit it. He's admitting it, and he's just gonna wing it from there on. He'll just see what" -- and look what happened. He stayed in the job, he got impeached but not to the point where he had to pack.
Producer: Is that an injustice?
Goldberg: No I think it, I think he paid -- I think there's enough of a -- the price had been paid.
Producer: How is the American people by and large dealt stood it, people didn't share your outrage I don't think.
Goldberg: No. I don't think it did. Well, everybody I heard from did, but I was hearing from my friends. You don't hear from your enemies when something like that's going on. But no, I think he still, I mean, I think he had a deep reservoir of fondness, and I think he still does.
Producer: As you watched what happened to Linda and to Monica after the story broke, what do you feel about that?
Goldberg: Well I thought it was -- they were much more sympathetic to Monica, Monica didn't take nearly the beating. Because there was a powerful machine behind -- I don't mean to sound like Hillary, a machine of conspiracy, but there were movers and shakers behind destroying Linda Tripp; doing her as much damage as they possibly could, and me too, by association. But, you know, when you know you're telling the truth, it's one of the strongest things that you can have in life, I don't care what kind of health you've got. I don't care what kind of friends or influence or money -- knowing you're telling the truth is absolute, total protection. And you just wait, you just sit back and wait cause you know that some day they're gonna find out. And that's why I kept getting up every morning and answering all these questions and dealing with the media, and with no net under my act -- I mean I didn't have, I couldn't call up Linda and say, "Now what was that that Monica said about so and so and such and such?" I couldn't get to her. She was, it was like she was dead, gone because Ken Starr wouldn't let her talk to me.
Producer: How did you characterize what was done to Linda? How was she depicted?
Goldberg: Well, the nastiest thing was Jane Merritt. New Yorker magazine went and found some police record in a town in Maryland when she was a teenager and riding around in a car with a couple of boys and they, I don't know, vandalized a dog house or something. I mean some little kid thing like that, and made it a huge, enormous deal out of it.
Well you have to remember that Linda was the kind of person that never had her name called in public. I mean this was a very private person, a government employee, top clearance security-wise and it was, it must have been horrible for her. Not just that one little incident but there were -- I mean there were stories that were deliberately made up about her. She was deeply in need of a stylist at the time, and she should have had one and they picked on her about that. You know, if they can't find anything else for a woman they'll go after her looks and they went after that, which I thought was cruel. But look, if you can play in the big leagues, you're gonna get sacked from time to time and you just have to brace yourself.
Producer: I can hear people at home saying if she didn't want to have that happen why did she--
Goldberg: Don't get involved. That's right.
Producer: You can feel sorry for her up to a point.
Goldberg: Up to a point. I feel sorry for myself up to a point, and then I know that you know that, you know, I made some mistakes too but they're -- you know, they weren't that dangerous.
Producer: You said once, I think I'm quoting you accurately, you said we as a country needed a test, and that's what the scandal was, a little priority test for everybody. Particularly for people who've had kids in the past couple of years when all this nonsense was going on. Do you remember saying that?
Goldberg: I don't, but I'm glad I said it. I agree with it entirely.
Producer: You said this whole mindset -- screw anybody you want, don't have a husband if you have a baby, latchkey kids are okay, don't marry anybody, the whole general morality. Tell me what you meant by that.
Goldberg: I meant that it's a test to see whether these values that I personally hold, that people that I respected and admire, and these values that make society move along, that protects you. These rules aren't written by squares who want you to keep from having a good time on Saturday night. They are written so you will lead a good, kind, loving life and raise your kids in a good, kind, loving way. And this as I'm quoted, I'm glad you dug it up because I forgot that I said it -- it was a test, and if the President of the United States, 60s, whatever he was, having all sorts of extracurricular sex in the Oval Office with a young intern is not a test, I can't think up one. I don't know how to work that test out. And this was what it was.
Producer: Is there a sense in which the country didn't pass the test because they didn't react more strongly to this? I mean there were certainly sources of outrage among certain people like you and Ken Starr, but it didn't seem to really affect the American people that way, is that fair to say?
Goldberg: That's too big an elephant for me to eat, you know? I'd have to do that one bite at a time.
I think it was a wake up call to a lot of people. There will always be a lingering little sort of taint to Bill Clinton because of that. Because they lied about it. That was what, you know, that's what people forget. He wasn't being impeached for what he did to Monica Lewinsky. It was that he lied about it and repeatedly lied about it and lied about it some more, and that was the test, if anything. Do we want our public servants to lie to us? And I think we passed the test with a resounding, "No, we don't. We don't want that." That's why there's anger boiling up now.
Producer: Are you proud of your role in what happened?
Goldberg: I'm not ashamed of it. Proud, eh. I'm proud that I knew the truth. That once I knew the truth, I got the truth out. I'm proud that I took care of my friends in doing so. I certainly -- there's nothing that I did that I'm ashamed of for an instant. It's just that things worked out the way they worked out.
Producer: I didn't ask you about the Ritz Carlton stuff with Linda-
Goldberg: That's too rococo to get into cause that's- no I wasn't talking to her then.
Producer: So it would just be what you read anyway.
Goldberg: Well no, I was talking to her then, because it was that night that they came up to her house. But no, she was on the phone, on the escalator going to-- and I can see Monica, she's down there with the shopping bag.
Producer: Tell me, if you wouldn't mind that one story of the escalator.
Goldberg: Well that was where she was being -- she was meeting her at the Ritz Carlton, and she was gonna tape her about being subpoenaed and the Grand Jury and so forth. So she called me and she was going down on the escalator and she said -- cause she was afraid Monica had gotten hip to what was going on. And she said, "I can see her she's down," she said, there was a food court, "and she's sitting, she's sitting down at the bottom, but she's got a shopping bag with her. I bet you she's got a tape recorder in there and she's gonna tape me." And I said, "Well you know what goes around comes around. If you're telling the truth, so what?" But by that time she was hooked up with two FBI agents that were, you know that were behind her, following her, so and that was -- then I had one more phone call when they took Monica up to the room and, you know, held her hostage from Linda saying, "I can't talk, we're going down to get something to eat, and the, and the FBI is with me." And that was-- click, boom, that's it.
Producer: That was the last you ever you spoke to her?
Goldberg: That was the last I ever spoke to her.
Producer: You're talking to Linda as this is going on, did you have a sense of, "Jesus, this is history."
Goldberg: And, she had a -- I said, "Where's your tape recorder?" And she said, "It's taped into, inside my thigh."
Producer: At this point the FBI was running this?
Goldberg: Well, they taped her, they wired her, she was totally wired, yeah, yeah.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?