NEWS THAT the FBI planned a sting operation against then-Mayor Marion Barry in 1998 is a dramatic reminder that the four-term mayor never left the sights of law enforcement officials. The plan to secretly videotape Mr. Barry committing a felony was never approved by the U.S. Attorney's office, however. Prosecutors evaluated the information proffered against Mr. Barry and concluded there was nothing to substantiate the claims that were being made.

The idea of launching a sting operation against Mr. Barry was hatched after police lieutenant Yong H. Ahn was arrested on corruption charges in February 1998. Prosecutors said in a Thursday statement that people "charged with crimes, or those close to them, frequently offer information that they believe will help their cause." The proposed sting, which was part of a larger law enforcement operation targeting corruption in the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, never materialized. In Mr. Barry's case, the information on which to base a sting operation could not be corroborated.

The disturbing aspect of this matter is the apparent eagerness of the FBI to conduct a sting against the then-mayor without a predicate strong enough to pass muster with federal prosecutors. The newly unsealed court transcripts chronicling a series of hearings with testimony from Lt. Ahn, his wife and FBI agents seem to suggest authorities may have been out to get the former mayor. According to yesterday's Post, "FBI agent William H. Spivey Jr. said authorities wanted evidence that Barry would accept a bribe in return for a city job." That led to the planned sting.

Fortunately in this case, the U.S. attorney's willingness to listen to and investigate allegations of criminal conduct did not lead to a suspension of sound legal and law enforcement judgment--just because the intended target was Marion Barry.