Gov. L. Douglas Wilder charged Friday that fellow Virginia Democrat Charles S. Robb and the senator's aides sought to undermine him with a negative publicity campaign that has "not been seen since Watergate."
Wilder also alleged that Robb used staff members of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which the senator heads, "to smear and discredit me." Wilder's news conference escalated a bitter and longstanding bout of political one-upmanship between himself and Robb.
Three of Robb's former close aides have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the secret taping of Wilder talking on the telephone. Federal prosecutors have sent Robb a letter advising him he is a target of their investigation into the eavesdropping.
Robb said Friday he tried to dissuade Wilder from holding the news conference, saying "I expressed concern that it would only hurt both of us and our party."
Robb said he hoped things could be patched up, "now that the governor has fully aired his views." He also said in a statement that he stood behind previous commitments to stop "feuding between certain members of our staffs."
At the news conference, Wilder said he complained to Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Robb's activities on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But Wilder said he did not ask Mitchell to oust the senator from the important fund-raising post. He said Mitchell (D-Maine) would have to decide that on his own.
Mitchell a week ago issued a statement of support for Robb, saying he felt the senator had been effective at the DSCC and in serving his state.
Diane Dewhirst, a spokeswoman for Mitchell, said he had no immediate comment on Wilder's latest remarks.
Wilder told reporters he "could not accept" a letter of apology sent to him Thursday by Robb's state coordinator, Christine Bridge, author of a memo that the governor labeled "despicable and beyond credible excuse."