Linda Tripp's friend plays innocent unconvincingly

November 15, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

HAVING HELPED make Linda Tripp the most reviled woman in America, here came Lucianne Goldberg last week, dishing her side of things to a grand jury in Ellicott City and coquettishly asking: What's a girl to do?

For openers, try telling us the truth. In their rush to hoist Bill Clinton on his own libido and win for themselves a juicy book (or tape) contract, Tripp and Goldberg can't even get their stories straight.

"Blame it on me," said Goldberg, the New York literary (you should pardon the expression) agent. She referred to the Maryland law on tape-recording telephone conversations, delicately sidestepping the issue of all laws of common decency, and the right to privacy, and the violation of a young woman's friendship and trust, even if that woman's name is Monica Lewinsky.

In Goldberg's telling, Tripp tape-recorded her talks with Lewinsky to protect herself. Got it? Tripp's the one unzipping other people's sex lives, and she's the one wishing to foist this material onto a public that neither expects nor wishes to hear about such sleaze, and she's the one with plans to write a best seller about it, and she's the one undressing Lewinsky and the president of the United States in front of everyone on the planet -- but she's the one who somehow needs protection?

Who's supposed to protect everybody else from her?

As Lucianne Goldberg arrived Thursday to testify before a Howard County grand jury, though, this protection business was slightly beside the point. The issue is the law. In Maryland, you can't do what Tripp did -- and Tripp knew it, even if her grand protector, Goldberg, belatedly wishes us to believe otherwise.

In Goldberg's telling, which she repeated to reporters outside the Ellicott City courthouse, "I told her it wasn't illegal. I take all the blame."

Where her story comes apart is this: Tripp told a federal grand jury last July 29 that she knew she violated Maryland law when she taped the Lewinsky conversations. Goldberg's more than three months behind in her version of a cover story.

Where Tripp thinks she protects herself is that she testified under a grant of immunity from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the poster boy for so much national revulsion that life has now turned with a vengeance against Tripp and Goldberg, against Starr, and against Newt Gingrich, who tried to orchestrate Bill Clinton's political undoing and instead managed his own.

Can we talk about Newt for a moment? There's a wonderful irony here, even beyond his leaving Washington in political disgrace. A while back, when Gingrich himself was under congressional investigation on ethics charges, a Florida couple stumbled onto a cellular phone conversation in which Newt broke his agreement with a congressional committee that he wouldn't secretly lobby for his own acquittal.

The Florida couple, and a congressman who was given their tape, were denounced by right-wingers as traffickers in stolen goods and violators of privacy. If that's the case, what does that make Linda Tripp and Ken Starr? And why don't we hear these same right-wingers making such cries now?

Anyway, where Tripp wants to make a key distinction in her case is this: Though she knew, by the time of her testimony, that she'd been breaking the law, she didn't realize it when she commenced her mad taping.

And that's where her story comes apart even more, on two counts: At RadioShack in The Mall in Columbia, where she brought her recording equipment, sales people are required to inform customers that telephone taping without consent is illegal -- which, they have told Maryland Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, they did.

And on the equipment box itself, and on instructions inside the box, the law is repeated: It's illegal without everybody's consent.

So there was Lucianne Goldberg last week, denying and denying the undeniable. Then, asked about the apparently vanished book deal she wished to "cash in" on, Goldberg replied, "Where do you cash in? I'd be at that window right now."

Not likely. Not since all newspapers in the country, and all TV talk shows, have given us every nuance of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex play, leaving little for Tripp to tell us that we don't already know.

And let's not be coy about literary forms. In June, before the release of the Starr report drowned us in swamp of salacious detail and took away her bargaining edge, Goldberg was asked by a reporter for the weekly New York Observer for a copy of the telephone tapes, and she replied, "The high offer I have is $2 million, and the low offer is $350,000."

But she and Tripp were only being patriots, see? They were only thinking of morality, see?

Baloney. The emperor -- Bill Clinton -- may be wearing no clothes, but Lucianne Goldberg and Linda Tripp are also looking pretty naked these days, and it's best we all try to avert our eyes.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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