Sen. Charles Robb placed three top aides on leave Tuesday and promised to investigate the role his office played in the controversy over the taping of Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's phone calls. Robb also said he welcomed outside investigations.
Virginia's attorney general, Mary Sue Terry, asked the FBI and state police to investigate the wiretapping, according to a law enforcement source in Virginia who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If such a responsible inquiry commences, we will cooperate fully," Robb said.
The escalation of the state feud between Wilder and Robb is a potential problem for Democrats nationally. Wilder is exploring a 1992 presidential run, and Robb, who also harbors presidential aspirations, heads the party's senatorial fund-raising committee.
Questions have been raised about the propriety of Robb's office holding and then destroying a recording of a telephone conversation Wilder had over his car phone when he was Virginia's lieutenant governor.
Robb, in a statement issued after several lengthy strategy sessions with advisers, said he was seeking "outside assistance" for his internal investigation.
Political sources in Washington and Virginia said Robb had asked attorney Charles Manatt, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to help him deal with the controversy.
Until Tuesday night, Robb had said an outside investigation was unnecessary. "But rhetoric has been so inflamed in recent weeks that decisive steps are required if the confidence of the people in their elected officials is to be maintained," Robb's statement said.
In Richmond, the FBI declined comment; Joe Wolfinger, the agent in charge of the bureau's Norfolk office, said, "We have no investigation of any allegation of criminal wrongdoing by Sen. Robb."
Robb said his aides agreed to temporarily step aside "to avoid any possible speculation that the internal inquiry would be affected by their presence."
Word of Robb's personnel moves came not long after Wilder delivered a harsh attack on Robb, and then said he was open to discussing a truce.
In his first statement Tuesday, Wilder said he has been unfairly blamed by Robb, other Democrats and the news media for fueling tensions between the senator and himself.
Twenty minutes later, Wilder issued a second statement saying he plans to look into the taping when he returns today from a trip to Europe.
"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 said he looked forward to "a personal conversation in the very near future," with Wilder.