A stolen "passionate embrace" between David Letterman and former assistant Stephanie Birkitt fueled a jealous rage within alleged extortionist Robert "Joe" Halderman, according to a friend and former co-worker.
His girlfriend's continuing affair with the late-night comedian, not financial woes, kicked off an explosive series of events that has led to Halderman's arrest and Letterman's on-air confession of sexual relationships with his staffers, Dr. Bob Arnot told "Good Morning America" today.
Halderman, he said, is "very angry, very upset."
Arnot said Halderman has told him in recent conversations that his relationship with Birkitt nearly ended after he found a diary at the end of 2008 that indicated "Steph is still going out with Letterman in a very serious way."
But after Halderman confronted Birkitt, she promised to end the affair and convinced him not to break up with her, Arnot said.
Then, in August, "he sees the two of them in a very passionate embrace at the end of the road," Arnot said. "He's furious. He feels like he's being played."
Thinking he was Birkitt's second choice behind Letterman, Halderman, Arnot said, "was enraged."
Arnot admitted that the story was simply hearsay but said he had no reason to doubt his friend.
"Sure, we don't know," he said. "And no one saw the affair happening."
Since news of the scandal broke, Halderman's attorney, Gerald Shargel, has told "Good Morning America" that the extortion allegation is "preposterous" and that there's more to the story than Letterman is letting on, a sentiment echoed today by Arnot.
"This is just the beginning of the case," he said. "The discovery phase has just begun"
Birkitt has remained in hiding.
For his part, Letterman has addressed the scandal with his typical brand of seriousness and self-deprecating wit. He has used his talk show to apologize to his wife and to his staffers and to poke fun at his situation.
"I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail," he joked, in a reference to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose dramatic extramarital affair had been a previous prime target for Letterman.
Although authorities have said Halderman had attempted to extort Letterman for $2 million, saying they have tape recorded conversations to prove it, money was not a motivation for Halderman, Arnot said.
Even though his friend had alimony and child-support payments to make, putting him "always under financial pressure," Arnot said, there was nothing in recent months to indicate Halderman was having dire money problems.
Now, Arnot said, he's saddened that his friend, who he called "a great human being," is under attack.
"No one's standing up for Joe," Arnot said. "He's positioned as a bad guy.
Letterman certainly wasn't the first person in the public eye to have been caught in a workplace liaison.
Some workplace experts say Letterman should probably not be getting flak for dating lower-ranking workers.
"Boss-subordinate relationships happen every day," said workplace relationship author Stephanie Losee. "It only blows up when public people are involved."