Donna Rice's Monkey Business shipmate Lynn Armandt breaks her silence on the scandal that toppled Gary Hart

June 15, 1987 12:00 PM

It all began innocently enough, says Lynn Armandt. On that Saturday morning, there was an excited phone call from her friend Donna Rice: Gary Hart, it seemed, had asked her to go on a yacht outing, and Donna—the chatty, gregarious, impressionable Donna—wanted her friend to come along. Donna didn’t know exactly who else would be on the afternoon cruise, but she wanted a companion. Hart, after all, was a man she had met only twice, and while Donna was smitten with him, she had no idea what the brief voyage would hold. Better to have someone like Lynn—the sharp-looking, self-possessed striver whose advice she sought at every turn—than to plunge into unknown waters alone.

In retrospect, of course, the outing on the Monkey Business would be seen as one of the most flamboyant indiscretions in recent memory. In a scant five weeks Hart’s political career would be in ruins, Rice would become the butt of scabrous jokes and the real story of Hart’s ill-fated relationship with Donna would be buried in the fallout. Denials from the two principals—both of whom continue to say that nothing improper occurred—only whetted the appetite of the press, and the endless debate on Who Went in What Door of Hart’s Washington town house gave the affair the quality of a shabby French farce.

Aghast at the turn it had taken—and refusing, by her account, to utter the cover story that was concocted to contain the scandal—Armandt decided to lie low. The single putatively neutral eyewitness to it all kept herself in seclusion for weeks—first, at a friend’s house in New York and later at her apartment in Miami, changing telephone numbers and dodging reporters on what seemed a daily basis.

Wearying of that, Armandt decided last week to tell what she knows on the theory that “the story would never be laid to rest and my life would never return to normal until I made a statement.” This, then, is her firsthand account of the Hart-Rice affair—a scandal in which, as in life, things are both more and less than they seem.

Lynn and Donna, then both 29, became acquainted through a mutual friend in January 1987, not long after Rice and Gary Hart had met casually at a New Year’s party given by rock singer Don Henley in Aspen. Outwardly they seemed a mismatch—Donna the Phi Beta Kappa cheerleader, Lynn the scrappy, self-styled entrepreneur who skipped college in her zeal to get into business. Donna ran with Miami’s aggressively social crowd of would-be models, as Lynn tells it—the sort of women who perk up noticeably in the presence of any male with a recognizable name. Lynn was less socially ambitious than just plain ambitious, proprietor first of a ladies’ high-fashion shoe store in Fort Lauderdale, now of the Too Hot Miami bikini boutique at Turnberry Isle, a flashy resort complex north of Miami.

They worked out together in those days at the resort’s health club, and they shopped together and shared gossip over sushi. “We talked a lot about fashion,” Lynn recalls. “I got the feeling that she was a little insecure about the way she dressed because she was overly concerned about my opinion.” Donna impressed Lynn from the beginning as naive—unfamiliar with the names of popular stars(“I thought that was odd for a would-be actress”) and even with the fact that the man she had met at that party in Aspen, Gary Hart, was a candidate for the Presidency. When their gossip touched on romance back then, Lynn remembers, Rice rhapsodized about Henley but seemed to have little interest in the 50-year-old politician.

That changed abruptly after the evening of March 27, when Donna went with some model chums to a party at the Turnberry Isle disco. Lynn skipped it, but Donna phoned the next day with a breathless report. “She told me that after the party she was with a group of people who strolled out to the Monkey Business, which was anchored at the dock,” Lynn says. “Gary was there with some other people, and she was able to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I met you at Aspen.’ I don’t think he was knocked out by Donna, but she really hangs in there. When she called to tell me about the cruise he’d invited her on, she said it seemed like he was interested, and she sounded excited.”

At first, Lynn resisted Donna’s suggestion that she come along on the cruise. She wasn’t wild about the notion of spending the afternoon on a yacht with the voluble Donna and Gary and a cast of unknowns. “Donna said they were going either to Ocean Reef or Bimini. I told her I didn’t want to go if it was Bimini, which was too far away and I didn’t want to be stuck for a long time. She called back and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to Ocean Reef, but hurry up.’ ”

On the boat, Lynn learned she had made a foursome: She was introduced to Hart and to 47-year-old William Broadhurst, the Washington, D.C. lawyer and lobbyist who was a key friend and fund raiser of Gary’s. With Rice and Armandt sunning on the bow and their companions relaxing nearby, they laughed and chatted until lunchtime. “We talked about the evangelists’ scandal,” Lynn recalls, “about what ministers we thought were scam artists. We talked a little about Oliver North and the Iran-contra affair, and then we talked about books. Gary gave us a very detailed account of the novel he wrote—he’s a great storyteller.” The discussion was absorbing, and both men were charming, so she made no objection when she found the boat was headed for Bimini. “I felt very comfortable,” she says.

After a lunch of lobster salad in avocado, cold asparagus and a fine white wine, the four reassembled on deck. Donna, in her bikini, sat on a cushion next to Gary. “They were sitting kind of close and seemed to be having a very intimate conversation,” Lynn says. “They just looked very intense about what was being said.”

Shortly afterward, when they went below to freshen up, Donna confessed to Lynn that she had asked Gary if he had ever been married. The news that he was in fact married, says Lynn, left Donna “open-mouthed.”

Donna’s flirtation with Hart left Lynn with Broadhurst, but she insists he remained “the perfect gentleman” throughout the voyage. After Armandt told him about her background, she says, the talk quickly turned to business. He said his Washington law firm needed a replacement for the woman who had been coordinating its corporate functions and asked if she was interested. She was indeed.

The boat docked in Bimini late in the afternoon. Although their overnight stay was later blamed on customs delays, Lynn says there was never any doubt that they were going to spend the night in port. They wandered into a bar called The Compleat Angler, they had a drink and then impulsively hopped onto the empty bandstand. “Bill got on the drums, Gary picked up the castanets and Donna and I were singing Twist and Shout,” Lynn says.

Then and later, what struck Armandt most keenly was just how public all this was, given Hart’s presidential candidacy. “I thought he almost wanted to be caught,” she says. “He’s a very smart man, but he was doing stupid things like being blatant with Donna.” At the same time, she understood it. “I don’t think he was in love with her, but I think he found her refreshing. She was so apolitical—it was a breath of fresh air. She was a very nice young girl who obviously liked him.”

That night Lynn slept in the cabin where she and Donna had stowed their bags. “I awoke at 7 o’clock in the morning to the sound of the engines, and I was alone,” Lynn says. “There were only three guest bedrooms, and I assume she didn’t sleep with Broadhurst.”

On the return to Miami, the men left for the airport, and Donna, eager to talk about her growing affection for Hart, lunched with Lynn. While she didn’t put it “in so many words,” says Lynn, “it was absolutely clear that she had slept with Gary. She’s not one to detail [sexual adventures], but she said she had a wonderful time with him…that he was very gentle and romantic. She said she really liked him and thought the feelings were mutual. And a lot of the conversation was, What did/think about it? I was skeptical.”

The next day Donna called with the news that Gary had phoned: “He told her what a wonderful time he had and that he looked forward to seeing her again.” Rice was ecstatic, says Lynn, who was quietly incredulous: “When he continued to call her every few days, I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ She’s a nice, attractive girl, but I couldn’t understand why he was continuing this.”

In the days that followed, Donna endlessly rehashed Gary’s phone calls—how he had said he’d missed her, that he thought of her constantly—and rehashed them with more people than Lynn. A mutual friend, Dana Weems, a stylist for advertising photographers, heard the recitations, as did a chum in L.A. “And she would tell other girls I don’t even know,” says Lynn. “Here’s this woman who was deluding herself that she was going to have a relationship with Gary, not just spend the night with him…. We were just amazed that he would call and whisper these sweet nothings to her.”

Trying to bring Donna back to earth was difficult. “Another friend and I tried to put it in her mind that it was a no-win situation,” Lynn says. While Rice wasn’t banking on Gary’s divorcing his wife, “she wanted to clarify things. Obviously, she wasn’t aspiring to be First Lady, but she wanted to know if it would turn into something a little more serious. She told me he was being evasive, that she could not get an answer.”

In the meantime, Lynn was hearing from Broadhurst, who followed through on his offer to interview her for the Washington job. But when he called to arrange a two-day interview trip for her, he told her Donna would be coming to D.C. at the same time and suggested they travel together. Armandt declined. She was wearying of the Donna-Gary saga, and she wanted to keep Broadhurst’s mind on her job prospects, not Hart’s social life.

Broadhurst picked her up at Washington’s National Airport that Friday afternoon and later informed her that Gary and Donna would be arriving on separate flights and that he would be meeting them as well. Armandt remembers a sinking feeling. “I just didn’t want to be involved,” she says. “And politically, I thought Hart was being irresponsible. Who wants a President who’s having love-life problems?”

Donna and Gary arrived, and soon the Bimini foursome was headed toward Washington in Broadhurst’s sedan. During the ride, Lynn says, Donna seemed a little too coy. “She was giggly, giddy. I think her nervousness was showing.”

After a tour of Gary’s town house, Lynn and Broadhurst left. The group met for dinner at Broadhurst’s, then split up again. Lynn says she and Broadhurst stayed up drinking coffee—and talking. “He asked me if there was another reason I hadn’t wanted to travel with Donna, and I said, ‘To be perfectly honest, she’s told a lot of people about this, and I don’t want any indiscretions to reflect on me.’ ” Lynn says she spent the night in one of Broadhurst’s guest rooms and that Donna was not in the house. “He thanked me for being candid and said he’d have a discussion with her the next day.”

The warning came too late. On Saturday, after a day spent together sightseeing, the four were to meet at Broadhurst’s for a barbecue at 9:00. At 9:30 Broadhurst called and was told by Gary that reporters were outside his house. “Gary said, ‘We’re not leaving—it’s better if you come over here.’ It still didn’t occur to anyone that it was going to turn out to be a fiasco,” Lynn says.

She and Broadhurst drove into the garage entrance at Hart’s. “As soon as we got there, Gary said he was going to go down to see what was going on. When he came back he looked pretty shaken—he was white. He said there were five reporters from the Miami Herald down there. He spoke to Broadhurst privately, and then they told us what the Herald guys had reported having seen.” From that moment on, the Rice-Hart liaison was “finito,” Lynn says. “The mission was just to get her out of there. It was very cold—not even a kiss on the cheek, which really upset Donna. She didn’t understand the finality of everything.” Gary sent her to Broadhurst’s home with Lynn and spent the night in his town house alone.

At Broadhurst’s, the night was “a jumble of comings and goings and reporters calling. The Herald wanted to talk to us, and Bill said no, we were sleeping. We weren’t, but obviously they didn’t want us to be interviewed. Donna was very nervous—she was pacing, maybe crying. She was worried about the wrong things, like how he’s going to feel about her, whether he’ll call again. She wasn’t worried about the realistic thing that was happening, which was this huge scandal that was exploding. She was frazzled, so nothing was making sense.”

Broadhurst corralled Lynn: “He talked to me privately, asking if Donna had anything embarrassing in her past. I didn’t know anything—I hadn’t known her that long. But I talked to her about it, and she said she didn’t want to tell them certain things about Brad [Donna’s ex-boyfriend, who had been sent to jail on a narcotics conviction].” Armandt says she dutifully passed along the story to Broadhurst.

There was a final order of business. Sitting Armandt and the distraught Rice down in the living room, Broadhurst went over the events described in the Herald, adding his own twist to the newspaper’s account. “It wasn’t like, ‘We have to get the story straight,’ but he said it like, ‘This is what happened.’ Obviously I understood what they were trying to do. The actual truth is that some of that back-door stuff they talked about never really happened and Donna actually stayed in Gary’s town house Friday night.”

After that, Armandt’s main concern was how to get away from Broadhurst’s house. When she had fended off several entreaties to stay, a lawyer from Broadhurst’s firm drove her to the airport and she caught the shuttle to New York, where she was scheduled to visit her mother. Mrs. Armandt hadn’t heard a thing, and Lynn met her with the words: “Brace yourself.”

Since that Sunday, Rice and Armandt have spoken just twice, over the phone. “She said she hadn’t slept. She couldn’t believe what she was going through. She had tried to contact Gary through third parties to ask how he was, but he hadn’t replied. Nothing at all.” Donna was still hurt after all that had happened. Lynn understood.

And when she discovered that her friend Lynn was about to tell her story, Donna was hurt again and angry. This too Lynn understands. “She has a lot of fears about being portrayed as not such a nice girl,” says Armandt, “when in fact she is a nice girl. If she’s guilty of being a little naive…well, there are worse things to be guilty of.”