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Marion Barry reprimanded but cleared of violating D.C. law

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; B01

Five months after D.C. Council member Marion Barry was censured and stripped of his committee chairmanship for giving a contract last year to an on-again, off-again girlfriend, the Office of Campaign Finance has admonished the former mayor but cleared him of violating city law.

Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, director of the campaign finance office, reprimanded Barry (D-Ward 8) in an official order posted Monday after the office found that he did not follow the city's regulations for employee conduct.

She wrote that Barry "failed to disclose his personal and financial relationship with Donna Watts-Brighthaupt. Disclosure of the relationship would have resulted in the transparency of the transaction and removed any cloud from the contract process."

But Barry called the order a "vindication" at a news conference Monday and had harsh words for high-profile lawyer Robert S. Bennett, who led the D.C. Council's independent investigation into the contract and into several earmarks Barry gave to groups in Ward 8.

"Mr. Bennett was the judge, juror, executor," Barry said at a news conference he held at the John A. Wilson Building. "His attitude was guilty until proven innocent, whereas the OCF's attitude was the American way: innocent until proven guilty. Reading the report, there is no way anyone could not conclude that this is not a vindication of me and my actions."

The U.S. attorney's office, which neither confirms nor denies investigations, had no comment Monday. But Barry said he is confident that there will be no charges.

Barry, whose legal troubles have pockmarked his storied political career, again said that he was apologetic to the public for using poor judgment. "The appearance of conflict is very subjective, very subjective. . . . I think it needs to be really sort of tightened up a little bit," Barry said. "But I maintain, and I was correct, that I broke no laws."

Barry, who was being followed by a cameraman filming footage for a reality show pilot, was jovial, exchanging niceties with reporters before he began the low-key news conference -- a contrast to the circus atmosphere that surrounded him in March when his colleagues voted unanimously to administer the unprecedented punishment of removing him from his committee and censuring him after what became known as "the Bennett report."

Bennett found that Barry had taken a cut of Watts-Brighthaupt's contract and had violated conflict-of-interest rules. "The report speaks for itself," Bennett said Monday. "There's not a single thing in the report that's been rebutted."

One of the most damning findings in Bennett's report was that Barry personally delivered a check to Watts-Brighthaupt and then drove her to the bank to cash it. Barry had loaned Watts-Brighthaupt money to help pay her mortgage before he gave her a personal services contract to develop a program called "Emerging Leaders of Ward Eight."

Bennett also found that Watts-Brighthaupt's written work for the program had been copied from sources on the Internet.

But Kathy S. Williams, the campaign finance office's general counsel, found that Barry did not violate the law because Watts-Brighthaupt was qualified and delivered "a satisfactory written product."

"It cannot be reasonably concluded that the Councilmember hired Ms. Watts-Brighthaupt under a $10,000 personal services contract to repay him for the loan of one mortgage payment in the amount of $700.00," Williams wrote.

The campaign finance office probe also cleared Barry's staff and others involved in the earmarks process, though Collier-Montgomery wrote that "Barry failed to closely monitor and oversee the activities of his employees and the operations. . . . Because of these failures to take the appropriate action, Councilmember Barry's conduct adversely affected the confidence of public integrity of District government."

The probes into Barry's contracts and earmarks were spurred by his arrest July 4, 2009, on allegations of stalking Watts-Brighthaupt in Anacostia Park. The charge was quickly dropped, but some council members questioned why Barry had hired Watts-Brighthaupt.

Barry publicly accused council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) of being behind the scrutiny into his office. He shied away from speaking about Catania at Monday's news conference, saying only that Catania was the one of the first council member to use earmarks, in 2005.

"One main lesson I learned is that the enemy, no matter who that may be, whether it be the media, whether it be jealously, never sleeps, never sleeps," Barry said. "They are always there, 24/7. . . . I have to be vigilant all the time."

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

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