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Angry Clemens steps up defense

He plays tape of call but it sheds little light

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 8, 2008

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HOUSTON - A statement, a video, an interview with "60 Minutes," a defamation lawsuit against his accuser, an agreement to testify before Congress, and a taped phone conversation.

Those are the things Roger Clemens and his Houston-based attorney, Rusty Hardin, have trotted out in what still could be a fruitless attempt to clear the pitcher's name after he was accused of being injected with steroids by personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report.

At a press conference yesterday that followed Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview with Mike Wallace, Clemens again denied any use of performance-enhancing drugs and shared a 17-minute conversation he had with McNamee last Friday evening that fell short of McNamee indicating he had made up the story or lied.

Clemens and Hardin said again that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner will testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Jan. 16 and swear again that he never used steroids. Hardin said he will accompany Clemens and that his client will not "hide behind the Fifth Amendment" but will answer every question under oath.

"I can't guarantee he won't be just as upset there as he's been since the allegations have come out," said Hardin. "The one thing I will guarantee is he's going to answer them."

Hardin filed a defamation suit against McNamee Sunday night in Harris County (Texas) just prior to the airing of the Wallace interview. Hardin said the suit had been in the works for more than a week, but that he was waiting to hear back from McNamee and his attorneys and never did.

After playing the tape of his phone call with McNamee and answering questions from reporters, an emotional Clemens walked off the podium, agitated by what he feels is a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality in the media.

Clemens cited an October 2006 report in the Los Angeles Times that linked him to steroid use but proved to be inaccurate when the affidavit it was based on was unsealed last month. The paper printed a correction and an apology.

"How do I prove a negative? How do I do it?" said Clemens. "We had to go through this torment for a year with the LA Times allegations. All I got at the bottom of the page was, 'We're sorry.' That was in my gut for a year.

"I have to pay a lot of money to defend myself again. Do I just keep shelling out millions? Is that what I do? At the end of the day, all I'll get is an apology and a 'we're sorry.'

"I got another [expletive] question the other day about the Hall of Fame. You think I played my career because I'm worried about the damn Hall of Fame? I could give a rat's ass about that also. If you have a vote . . . you keep your vote. I don't need the Hall of Fame to justify that I put my butt on the line and I worked my tail off.

"And I defy anybody to say I did it by cheating or taking any shortcuts."

In defense of his client's angry exit, Hardin said, "You have to realize that most of you have judged him and convicted him. He's in a room to answer questions in a room of people who have already done that. It doesn't make you warm and cuddly. That's why I'd written a note to him, 'Lighten up,' and you saw what his reaction was to it. I think that's a total human reaction."

Asked whether testifying under oath would make Clemens more believable to the public, Hardin said, "Look, there are a large number of people . . . in what they have written and what they have said, that have already made up their mind. With those people, I think Roger swearing under oath will make no difference at all. Those people who have an open mind to the possibility he's telling the truth, it may make a difference."

Hardin said the defamation lawsuit was filed only because neither McNamee nor his attorneys got back to Clemens.

"As of Friday night, we weren't going to file a lawsuit," said Hardin. "Saturday we were waiting to see if McNamee re-contacted Roger. We had asked him to get permission of his lawyers before we did anything, and we never heard back. Then on Sunday afternoon when Newsday posted that it was an emotional hour-long conversation, so then we decided, 'OK, he's decided to leak it to the media,' instead of coming back to Roger. Then we see the lawyers from the other side saying we might have gotten involved in trying to affect a witness. We decided, 'That's it.' "

Hardin said the phone conversation Friday was not taped with the intention of sharing it with the media. "We just decided that [Sunday] afternoon," he said.

Addressing the release of the report authored by baseball investigator George Mitchell last month, Hardin said he should take the blame for Clemens not coming out immediately to defend himself.

"I think it would have been incredibly irresponsible allowing him to do that before we knew what the hell was going on," Hardin said.

"Mitchell may have had more information available to him than what we're aware of. So that reasonable people could differ. I do not believe they did enough checking on the credibility of McNamee. We're finding too many things McNamee told them that would not have checked out.

"My whole problem with this is my brother is a lawyer in Atlanta and knows Mitchell and raves about him. Congress loves him. How do you challenge someone who settles Ireland?

"I've always wanted to go slow on this thing because I don't want to make allegations about him or them. It's premature to be suing him."

In the taped conversation, Clemens never seemed as though he were trying to get McNamee to say he was lying. Hardin said he spoke to Clemens before the conversation and told him, "The last thing in the world you want him to do is to have people say you're trying to talk him into anything. If you start asking for things and he's willing to give it to you, you're going to get into a situation where you're trying to bribe . . . not bribe, but affect a federal witness. Don't say anything that tries to get this guy to do anything in return for anything."

Hardin said Clemens thought all along that McNamee would have second thoughts about his testimony and come clean.

On the call, McNamee sounded distraught over his ill son, the fact that his wife had left him, and that he was living in a one-bedroom apartment. He often repeated, "What do you want me to do, Roger?" McNamee also repeated that Clemens had done more for him than anyone in his life and that Clemens taught him to be a father to his children.

"I'm telling the truth and I want it out there," Clemens said, to which McNamee responded, "Tell me what you want me to do. I'll go to jail. I'll do whatever you want."

Clemens, who told McNamee, "I need somebody to tell the truth, Mac," sounded sympathetic with McNamee's plight. Clemens also told him that his own wife "is a mess" and that their children were feeling the effects of the controversy.

Hardin disclosed that his own investigators went to see McNamee, who told them that federal agents told McNamee that the trainer was lying about Clemens's involvement in steroids at a time when McNamee at first wasn't giving anyone up.

Prefacing his comments by saying he wasn't accusing the feds of any wrongdoing, Hardin said McNamee told his investigators that "the feds believe Roger used and so the truth as far as the feds were concerned was that Roger used steroids. If the person who is going to decide perjury has already made up their mind that the truth is X, then the person they're talking to has a reason to do it. McNamee made it clear to our people that at the end of the first day and the end of the second day, they were insistent he was lying about Clemens. If you believe the person who has the hammer believes true is X and you're being offered a way to stay out of jail if you tell the truth, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the truth is."

Earl Ward, one of McNamee's lawyers, told ESPN Radio, "The tape adds absolutely nothing."

The next time McNamee speaks will be at the Congressional hearing, which is likely to be the next time Clemens will speak.

"I'm going to Congress and I'm going to tell the truth," Clemens said.

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