James McGreevey 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Former New Jersey governor James McGreevey's book, The Confession, has all the makings of a blockbuster movie: a gay love affair involving a powerful American and his Israeli underling, an extortion plot and the story of a governor living a double life.
The only thing missing is the truth, according to Israeli Golan Cipel, McGreevey's former adviser, who was the antagonist in the book.
In the book, McGreevey graphically describes a consensual sexual relationship with the former spokesman of Rishon Lezion, whom he met on a visit to Israel when he was planning to run for governor of New Jersey. McGreevey appointed Cipel as his homeland security adviser, despite his lack of qualifications for the post.
Both men eventually resigned in scandal: Cipel, in August 2002, after lawmakers questioned why he had not been subjected to a background check, McGreevey, in a press conference two years later, in which he revealed that he was gay.
McGreevey is now on a high-profile book tour across the United States that has included Oprah and Larry King Live. Cipel has avoided the press since he became a household name in Israel and America. But now he is talking, and spoke to The Jerusalem Post because, he said, he wanted Jews in Israel and abroad to hear his side of the story.
Cipel vigorously denied having a sexual relationship with McGreevey and said that none of McGreevey's stories about weekend excursions with him were true. He outlined in graphic detail three incidents in which he alleged that McGreevey tried unsuccessfully to force him to have sexual relations with him. He said he had no problem with homosexuality but that he is heterosexual and seeking "a nice American Jewish bride."
"The release of McGreevey's book is the unfortunate reason why I feel I must speak, because nearly everything in that book that pertains to me and my relationship with him is a complete fabrication," Cipel said.
"It deserves to become the first memoir in history to be sold in the fiction section of bookstores. McGreevey spun a tale about his struggle to come out of the closet as a gay man and his realization that he could no longer run from himself. But the reality is that this was never an issue of sexual orientation or a secret romance. The fact is that I was the victim of several sexual assaults and ongoing sexual harassment by Jim McGreevey."
In his book, McGreevey said Cipel threatened to go public with their affair and to sue for sexual assault and harassment because McGreevey would not find him a new job. He denied committing any sexual assault or harassment.
In response to the allegations now being made public by Cipel, State Sen. Ray Lesniak, a longtime friend of the former governor's, has been quoted as calling Cipel an "extortionist and opportunist."
On Tuesday, McGreevey told the AP that Cipel's responses to reports of the book's contents have been "unfortunate." He says he was thankful to Cipel for forcing him to shed his false life.
"Ironically, he did me a favor," McGreevey said. "[Without him], I'd still be in the closet today."
Cipel and McGreevey met when the governor visited Israel on a trip sponsored by the local New Jersey Jewish federations. McGreevey asked Cipel to join his election campaign team and, after his victory, asked him to stay on as an adviser.
Both men said the first incident took place at McGreevey's home after the election when his pregnant wife Dina was in the hospital, but they disagreed over whether it was consensual. Cipel said McGreevey asked him to go to a local bar with him.
"I was very surprised," Cipel recalled. "It was fairly late at night, and I didn't think it was appropriate for a governor to go to a bar at that time of day - if at all. I expressed my concern that drinking in a bar might damage his reputation for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that his wife was in the hospital at the time expecting the birth of their first child."
Cipel reluctantly agreed to drive him to the bar but did not drink much because he does not like beer. McGreevey had two beers and bought a bottle of J germeister. They returned to McGreevey's house and discussed politics while McGreevey drank and Cipel refused offers of liquor shots. When Cipel said he was tired and asked to go home, McGreevey told him that he needed to show him something work-related upstairs.
"He started towards the den when suddenly he turned very abruptly and pushed me extremely hard into his bedroom and towards his bed," Cipel said. "I was in shock, and I froze in disbelief. I asked him 'What are you doing?!' With both his hands on my chest he pushed me back onto the bed and jumped on top of me, trying to pin me to the bed and kiss me. We wrestled, and then he just stopped. He got off the bed and was standing on one side of the room while I stood on the other. I was in total shock. I never imagined something like this could happen, had never even prepared myself for the possibility."
When Cipel asked McGreevey why he thought he was gay, he replied: "Everyone's a little bit gay." Cipel decided to continue working for him, dismissing the incident as a one-time thing that happened because the governor got drunk. McGreevey later apologized and Cipel promised not to tell anyone, Cipel said.
The second incident occurred after McGreevey had broken his leg and was confined to a bed in his living room. Cipel's wife and another male aide went to the kitchen and left the two men alone with McGreevey's infant daughter.
McGreevey exposed himself, Cipel said. "I was shocked and appalled, to say the least. I incredulously asked him, 'What are you doing?! Your baby is right here in the room, and your wife is in the kitchen! What's wrong with you?!'"
But McGreevey "patted the bed with his palm and said 'Come sit next to me.' I immediately said I was leaving."
According to Cipel, McGreevey tried to kiss him when he returned to the room but the aide rejected the advance. Cipel then called McGreevey "a very sick man." But he again decided to ignore the problem, hoping it would go away, fearing that he would not be able to get another visa to remain in the country and concerned that McGreevey would try to harm him to protect his own career.
The final incident took place during an overnight drive to Washington, DC with state troopers after both McGreevey and Cipel had fallen asleep, Cipel said.
"All of a sudden I felt someone was pulling on my right leg," Cipel recalled. "I looked down and saw the governor lying next to me on the floor." Again, the governor was attempting to initiate a sexual act, Cipel said.
"I quickly pulled my leg away, and then he grabbed my left leg and began to pull it towards him. I looked up at the troopers, but they appeared to be concentrating on the road and didn't seem to be aware of what was going on. I lifted my leg and I aimed it towards McGreevey's head. At that moment I was ready to kick him in the throat, but then he recoiled and crawled away to the far corner of the van."
Cipel said that McGreevey contradicted himself in the book. He said that after describing a sexual relationship between them, McGreevey wrote that he thought Cipel might not be gay, but that after being with him, he might cross over to his side of the sexual divide.
"That statement proves that he knew that I wasn't gay," Cipel said. "That line contradicts his stories of a love affair. If I am not gay, it's not a love affair. It's sexual harassment and assault of a severe kind. I think the only way I avoided him was because I was stronger than he was and I managed to handle it. I think sometimes about what would have happened if he tried the same with a woman. It would have ended up much worse."
Cipel said that when he met McGreevey in Israel, he did not suspect him of being gay because his wife was pregnant. He said McGreevey would often talk about heterosexual sex and ask personal questions about the women Cipel dated.
Looking back on his decision to leave Israel to join McGreevey's campaign, Cipel said he now believes he made a big mistake. He said he was na ve and he should have found it odd that a candidate for governor of New Jersey was taking such an interest in him.
"Only after the whole thing happened did I realize that he marked me as a target," Cipel said. "Everything he did after that was to gain my confidence and convince me to trust him and be dependent on him so he could attack me. It was the beginning of the web that he wove around me."
After McGreevey revealed that he was gay, law enforcement officials and the press began investigating revelations from the McGreevey camp that Cipel and his lawyers were seeking a financial settlement in return for his silence on the affair that McGreevey called consensual and Cipel called sexual harassment.
McGreevey, in his book, denied committing any sexual assault or harassment and said Cipel threatened to sue for sexual assault and harassment because McGreevey would not find him a new job.
Cipel said a federal investigation determined that he never extorted McGreevey. He said that McGreevey's blackmail accusations against him were nothing more than a public relations maneuver intended to deflect attention from his sexual assaults on him.
Cipel said he returned to Israel to defend his family from a media swarm around their Rishon Lezion home. Cipel had intended to return to the US, but said he had stayed on at the request of his family after he received a threat in the mail.
Cipel still lives in Israel, where he works as a consultant. He has embarked on an effort to clear his name while McGreevey is on his book tour. Cipel recalled a conversation with the governor about politicians involved in scandals.
"He said the way for a politician to handle a scandal was to face the public and ask for their apology," Cipel said. "When I said that was not enough, he said: 'You don't know the American people. They are very forgiving and have a soft heart.' When I asked about the media, he said all you have to do is give them the 'best show in town.' That's what he is doing with his book."
Cipel said he was afraid that McGreevey's book tour was his first step toward a return to politics. He accused Larry King, Oprah Winfrey and other talk show hosts of making McGreevey look like a hero.
"He wants to get back into public life, because he needs to see people applauding him," Cipel said. "I love America and the American people and I think they will wake up eventually and see the truth. I don't think they are as na ve as McGreevey thinks they are. There should be zero tolerance for politicians getting away with such things. Only then will politicians like McGreevey not be able to rehabilitate their name."
Cipel expressed disappointment with people for believing McGreevey and he gave New Jersey Jews a pre-Yom Kippur scolding for not offering him a helping hand.
"I was part of the New Jersey Jewish community and I helped a lot of people. In my time of need, they turned their back on me," Cipel said. "I love the Jews of New Jersey but their silence was very painful for me. I didn't get one call from rabbis, friends or people in the Federations asking me for my side of the story or offering help. No one said 'maybe Golan is right.'"
The Associated Press adds:
McGreevey's book details his inner battles with his homosexuality, his rise in New Jersey politics and his double life as a married father and a closeted gay.
He describes bedding the man (Cipel) whom he claims blackmailed him while his wife, Dina, was in the hospital after delivering their daughter (the first incident above), as follows: "We undressed and he kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean - it sent me through the roof... I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I'd always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love."
The affair continued and in 2002 Dina McGreevey confronted her husband, asking if he were gay. McGreevey thought about telling her the truth, but said nothing.
The affair soured and around Easter 2004, McGreevey had one of his last phone conversations with Cipel. Cipel said he had told his parents he had an affair with McGreevey. McGreevey said Cipel demanded to see him, but McGreevey said he could not. "If I don't hear from you I'm going to have to take action," Cipel said.
On July 23, 2004, the steps leading up to McGreevey's resignation began when an aide told him that Cipel had threatened to file sexual assault charges against him if he did not pay $50 million. Weeks of back and forth with Cipel's attorney went nowhere, and while flying over New Jersey in a helicopter, McGreevey thought about resigning.
McGreevey and his closest associates contemplated their options, including going to federal authorities.
"I knew it would stop the extortion campaign, but it would do nothing to protect my secret," McGreevey writes. "Once an official complaint was made, I knew my heterosexual pretense was over. My story would land in the pantheon of messy love affairs."