D.C. City Council Chairman David A. Clarke has asked Attorney General William French Smith to seek appointment of an independent prosecutor to find and punish any federal officials who leaked information about a federal grand jury investigation into drug use by city employes.
At a news conference yesterday to release his Aug. 31 letter to Smith, Clarke said, "it is clear a crime has been committed" by federal officials because a recent New York Times article cited "federal law enforcement officials" as the source of information about the probe.
Federal investigators, prosecutors and grand jurors are prohibited from revealing information about grand jury investigations. Witnesses before a grand jury, however, can talk about their testimony and any information they were given.
Clarke pointed to recent news reports that the grand jury is investigating whether Mayor Marion Barry committed perjury when he testified that he has not used cocaine and did not obtain cocaine from a friend later convicted of selling the drug.
Clarke said yesterday that abuse of the grand jury system has made it possible for the press and federal law-enforcement officials together "to try somebody without due process requirements that the Constitution affords."
Herbert O. Reid, the mayor's legal counsel, in a letter last week, also suggested to Smith the appointment of a special prosecutor. Clarke said he was unaware of Reid's letter at the time he wrote his letter.
Justice Department spokesman John Russell said the attorney general probably would have a response to both letters in a few days.
Barry testified before the grand jury in January about Karen K. Johnson, a former city employe and friend of Barry's, who has since been convicted of selling cocaine.
The mayor repeatedly has denied using illegal drugs or knowing of Johnson's involvement with drugs, though he acknowledges having a "casual" personal relationship with her.
Barry has charged that U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova or his office has been the source of leaks to embarrass him and his administration.
DiGenova has denied discussing -- publicly or privately -- any ongoing investigations. He said witnesses, "99 percent of the time," are the source of news reports about grand jury investigations.
Clarke said he is not pointing to diGenova's office, because he has no way of knowing who were the "federal officials" cited in the Times article.
"Abuses are not isolated, but are continually and consciously committed," Clarke said in his letter. He said such abuses "are punishable as contempt of court."
If government officials violate the law, they should be investigated and charged and brought to trial, where they can face their accusers and defend themselves, he said.
In the investigation of the mayor, however, "thousands of dollars have been spent, but apparently insufficient evidence produced to bring a charge," Clarke said.
While stories in The Washington Post on the investigation have cited unnamed sources, Clarke said he believed federal officials were involved because information attributed to officials in the Times story had previously been in Post stories.
The press has rendered itself impotent by accepting the leaks, Clarke said. Since journalistic ethics prevent reporters from revealing their sources, the press cannot be counted on to report about violations of secrecy rules, he said.
Only a prosecutor independent of the Justice Department can properly investigate, Clarke said.