THERE SEEMS to be no immediate end to news about allegations of misconduct and corruption on the part of top officials in the administration of Mayor Barry -- with the latest of them directed at Mr. Barry himself. Now, as a countermove, the mayor has filed suit in federal court complaining about "prosecutorial abuse and vindictiveness." Where this will finally take the mayor, the prosecutors or the city isn't clear at this point, nor is there any good estimate of exactly when they will get there. But the effect of these developments on public perceptions of Washington's mayor and his administration can hardly be characterized as uplifting.
A report broadcast by WUSA-TV (Channel 9) and attributed to an unnamed source said that convicted drug dealer Karen K. Johnson had told prosecutors she sold cocaine to the mayor on 20 to 30 occasions, that she had used cocaine with him several times, and that she had acknowledged receiving payments to keep quiet about the drug dealings. The report also alleged that in her handwritten "secret papers" obtained by the station, she had written of a former sexual relationship with the mayor. Mr. Barry has denied all of this, saying he is "appalled and outraged" at this "attempt to run me out of office." His suit asks the court to order a lid on alleged leaks, which he claims have done him "irreparable harm."
What are we to make of this?
Who is telling the truth?
The fact is that on the basis of what has been said and reported so far, it is not possible to say. This doesn't mean that there is no legitimate news story here; any charges as serious as these deserve full and continuing coverage and do attract national attention. Pursuit of more details, in fact, becomes all the more critical, and naturally this paper has a direct interest in that pursuit. How the news comes to light may vary, and may have nothing to do with the sanctity of the grand jury process or the conduct of officials connected with it. To offer a theoretical example, there is nothing to prevent witnesses from relating what they may have seen, heard or said during a grand jury appearance. If this information of interest to the public is provided in confidence, then the news organization to which this information is provided has an obligation not to violate that confidence.
Until investigations of all these allegations are completed, the city will continue to undergo uncomfortable times -- with suspicions, rumors and speculation upstaging or even hindering the routine conduct of local government. Mayor Barry's suit is an effort to try to stem this flow and to pressure the investigators to put up or lay off. It is still important to remember that, so far in the latest investigations, there have not been any arrests, indictments or convictions. There is much material, apparently coming from more than official federal sources and still being heard by grand juries. The sooner this work is completed, the better -- no matter where it leads.