Friday 23 January 1998 6:39 AM EST

Sex Scandal Figure Had Role in Nixon Campaign

By Gene Gibbons WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Manhattan book agent helping to fan the flames of the sex scandal that threatens to engulf Bill Clinton's presidency spied on Democrat George McGovern for the Nixon re-election campaign in 1972. Lucianne Goldberg's involvement surfaced Thursday after she said she had recordings of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky telling of an illicit affair with Clinton and of him urging her to cover it up by lying under oath to lawyers in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. The tapes were surreptitiously recorded by Lewinsky co-worker Linda Tripp, whom Goldberg said has been a friend since 1993. Reached by telephone at her home in New York, Goldberg told Reuters Tripp made the tapes "at my suggestion because she needed to be protected." "I'm a friend of Linda's. My only subjectiveness is that I like Linda, and Linda asked me to help her," Goldberg said. The allegations on the tapes, which the president has denied, have plunged Clinton into the gravest crisis of his presidency. Legal experts said that if the charges are true, it could trigger a push for impeachment. Goldberg said she had only listened to two of the 20 tapes of telephone conversations between Tripp and Lewinsky. "I believe these women ... It's true. You can't listen to these tapes and not know it's true," she told Reuters. Ironically, Goldberg played a bit part in the impeachment drama that ultimately drove Richard Nixon from the presidency in 1974. In 1972, a Nixon campaign strategist tapped Goldberg to work as a spy on George McGovern's campaign plane, where she posed as a magazine writer covering the Democratic presidential candidate. Her role in the Nixon campaign came to light a year later during the Watergate investigation, which revealed that Nixon's re-election campaign conducted an extensive political dirty tricks operation to damage Nixon's Democratic rivals and derail McGovern's bid for the White House. "I was working for Murray Chotiner," Goldberg told Reuters, referring to a Nixon political operative known for his slashing campaign tactics. Asked if she was part of the Nixon dirty tricks operation, Goldberg said: "Well, they called it dirty tricks at the time, but I was not part of any dirty tricks thing." On the current scandal, Goldberg said Tripp had given her the tapes and that she turned them over to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr. "I was subpoenaed. That's how he got them. He sent the FBI around and they gave me the subpoena and my lawyer gave them the tapes and I don't have them any more," Goldberg said. Starr has expanded his investigation to look into the sex scandal, which potentially involves several serious felonies, including suborning perjury and obstruction of justice. Reuters ------------------------------------------------------------------------