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Wilder Lashes Out At Robb Over Phone Tapes

June 11, 1991

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Gov. L. Douglas Wilder on Tuesday delivered his harshest attack yet against Sen. Charles S. Robb over the taping of conversations on Wilder’s car phone.

The governor then accepted his fellow Deomcrat’s offer to discuss a truce.

In his first statement, Wilder said he has been unfairly blamed by Robb, other Democrats and the news media for fueling tensions between the senator and himself.

Wilder said he was ″a victim of a crime″ because car phone conversations were taped in 1988 when he was lieutenant governor. A tape of his phone conversation with a political associate wound up in Robb’s office, but the senator has denied knowing who made the recording.

″Suddenly the victim is on trial because he speaks out,″ Wilder said in the statement. ″Suddenly, the victim is accused of ‘feuding’ because he wants answers to many troubling questions.″

″Put succinctly: Blaming the victim will not change the facts or excuse the conduct of Sen. Robb and his staff in this eavesdropping incident,″ Wilder said.

On Monday, Robb said he would like to talk with Wilder after the governor returns Wednesday from a trade mission to Europe.

On Tuesday, Wilder issued his harsh statement. But 20 minutes later, he issued a second statement saying he plans to look into the illegal taping once he gets back to Virginia.

″After making this assessment of the situation, I will be pleased to meet with the senator at a time when he is in Richmond,″ the governor said.

Robb’s press secretary, Steve Johnson, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Wilder’s statements.

The dispute began Friday when the governor said he learned about the taping of conversations he made on his cellular car phone.

Robb said his office received a plain envelope 2 1/2 years ago containing the taped conversation, in which Wilder tells a supporter that Robb has been ruined by news reports that he attended drug parties in Virginia Beach. Johnson said the tape was recently destroyed, but reporters obtained a transcript.

State Democratic leaders worry that Wilder and Robb are hurting the party and their own political careers with their feud that dates to the early 1980s. Both men have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Wilder has formed an exploratory committee for a 1992 bid.

State Republicans have joined the fray as well, with one GOP official accusing a Robb staffer of extortion.

Steve Haner, director of the Republican legislative caucus, said a Robb staffer used extortion tactics to force him to disclose who hired a private detective to investigate the senator’s social life.

Haner said Robb aide Robert Watson told him on June 6, 1989, to either leak to the media who hired Billy Franklin to investigate Robb or face being named in an unfair campaigning complaint.

Franklin was investigating rumors that Robb, while governor, attended parties in Virginia Beach where cocaine was used. Robb has denied using drugs or being in the presence of those using drugs.

Haner said Watson told him that Haner’s name came up in a Franklin telephone conversation that was tape-recorded. Watson said that mention was enough to tie Haner to the investigation and make it a political campaign act, Haner said.

When the complaint was eventually filed with the Federal Election Commission, Haner was not included.

Watson was out of the state Tuesday and was not available to comment.

Update hourly