Wilder, wounded, rips Robb Va. governor takes his pique public

May 23, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder yesterday went out of his way -- literally -- to slam his home state rival and fellow Democrat, Sen. Charles S. Robb, who is the target of a federal probe.

Mr. Wilder traveled from Richmond to the National Press Club in Washington to respond to a critical memo about him that was written by a Robb staffer and leaked to the news media this week.

The governor, an unsuccessful candidate for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, also assailed a former Robb aide who pleaded guilty this week to campaign-financing violations and wiretapping charges involving a secretly taped Wilder phone conversation.

"I am revulsed by those revelations by current and former Robb staffers," said the governor, flanked by a throng of reporters and cameras. "But I can't say I'm surprised, because I have known for quite some time that there has been a deliberate effort on behalf of these people to smear as well as to discredit me."

The March 1991 memo was written by the senator's state director, Christine O. Bridge, to other Robb aides; it was made public this week by the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. The memo calls Mr. Wilder and his allies "vindictive, petty, untrustworthy" and suggests ways to boost Mr. Robb's political career and undermine Mr. Wilder. Ms. Bridge told the newspaper she wrote the memo "on request."

"That memorandum does not represent my views of the governor then or now," said Mr. Robb in a statement, noting that it reflects a time of "prior feuding." Mr. Robb said he apologized to the governor this week and urged him not to hold a news conference that would "only hurt both of us and our party."

Meanwhile, David K. McCloud, a former top aide to Mr. Robb, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges involving a 1988 tape of a cellular phone conversation in which the governor speculates about Mr. Robb's political fortunes because of allegations of extramarital affairs. McCloud said in his plea agreement that Robb staffers considered leaking the tape to the media in an effort to deflect controversies surrounding the senator.

The Democratic senator is now the target of a grand jury investigation into wiretapping and misreporting of campaign funds.

Yesterday's news conference was the latest chapter in a long-running political feud that began in the 1970s between the two ambitious and strong-willed politicians. The feud burst into the open last year when the tape came to light, and threatened both their careers. Urged on by party leaders, the two held a well-publicized meeting in Washington last summer and strained credulity by denying any hostile feelings between them.

Mr. Wilder stopped short of calling for Mr. Robb's resignation yesterday, saying there would be a "potential conflict" since as governor he would name any replacement. He also deflected questions about whether he would run against Mr. Robb in 1994, when his term as governor ends.

The governor released a letter he sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, calling the tape and memo a "smear campaign against me." The letter, part of a press packet that included news stories and copies of court documents, notes that McCloud worked at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Mr. Robb chairs.

In his plea agreement, McCloud contradicted statements by Mr. Robb, who told the grand jury last summer he knew little about the tape. McCloud said the senator had been advised from the beginning.

"I have told the truth and I stand by every word I have ever uttered on the subject," Mr. Robb said in a statement.

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