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.
David Letterman Latest to Be Caught in Workplace Romance
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."
Letterman's past relationships with staffers came to light last week when, on his show, he alleged that a CBS News producer tried to extort $2 million by threatening to go public with information on the host's workplace liasons.
The news spurred ribbing from Letterman's late-night comedy peers as well as disaproval from critics who contend that relationships between bosses and employees are wholly inappropriate. Indeed, they can point to a slew of prominent examples of when such relationships -- sometimes in the form of extramarital affairs -- went awry, including those of former Sen. John Edwards, Nevada Sen. John Ensign, former WellPoint CFO David Colby, former Boeing Chief Executive Harry C. Stonecipher and President Bill Clinton.
Losee, the co-author with Helaine Olsen of "Office Mate: Your Employee Handbook for Romance on the Job," said that while she generally recommends against supervisors pursuing romance with their underlings, "at the same time, we are in no position to tell people what to do with their hearts."
Why Some Office Romances Work
Losee said that, the horror stories involving politicians and other famous figures notwithstanding, boss-subordinate romances often end in marriage -- 44 percent, according to a 2003 survey by American Management Association. That's not surprising, given the amount of consideration that often preceeds such relationships, she said.
"The risk is so much greater and people do give it a lot more thought before they get into" such a relationship, she said.
The sparks behind these and other office romances, she said, are similar to those in other relationships: common interests -- in these cases, professional interests -- and close friendships.
"You get to know this person under fire. You see them when they're challenged. You see them deal with colleagues. You see them when they're exhausted on a Monday and (you see) what is the content of their character," she said.
You know a great deal about them "before you ever go on a date," she said. "That's old-fashioned, not skeezy."
Noteable office romances that have resulted in marriage include those of Bill and Melinda Gates, Les Moonves and Julie Chen and President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Melinda Gates, then Melinda Ann French, maried Microsoft founder Bill Gates in 1994, seven years after she started working for Microsoft. The Obamas married in 1992, after Barack Obama worked as an intern for his future wife when she was an associate at a Chicago law firm. CBS Corp. CEO Moonves married CBS "Early Show" anchor Julie Chen in 2004.
Letterman himself can be included in the from-superior-to-spouse club: His wife, Regina Lasko, whom he married earlier this year, was once also a staffer on his show.
Experts say there are also plenty of boss-subordinate relationships that fizzle but avoid major workplace drama in the process.
"There have probably been more success stories than there are times when it went bad," said Sue Murphy, the manager of the National Human Resources Association in New Hampshire.