Clemens is hit hard on the Hill
Pitcher leaves self vulnerable as he denies steroid use to skeptical lawmakers
WASHINGTON - His credibility under siege and a criminal investigator scrutinizing his every word, Roger Clemens yesterday confronted a flurry of new questions about his honesty as he faced his accuser and a wary congressional committee in a high-stakes struggle to remove the stain from his legacy as one of baseball's greatest pitchers.
Rather than clear his name, Clemens left himself vulnerable to possible charges of lying to federal officials as he tried to persuade the 40-member House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that his former trainer, Brian McNamee, lied about injecting him more than 20 times with illegal steroids and human growth hormone.
Committee chairman Henry Waxman said after the hearing - a 4 1/2-hour drama fraught with themes of deceit and betrayal - that the panel had yet to decide whether to ask the Justice Department to investigate Clemens for possible criminal offenses.
Performances did not enhance testimonies, writes Dan Shaughnessy. C1.
But Waxman left little doubt whether he considered Clemens or McNamee, who both testified under oath, more truthful in presenting their radically contradictory stories before a national television audience.
The two adversaries sat at a glass-topped wooden witness table, arm's length from each other, avoiding eye contact amid their bitter dispute.
"I thought Mr. McNamee was very credible," Waxman, a California Democrat, told reporters when asked to choose between the two.
The committee's top Republican, Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, concluded only that "someone is lying in spectacular fashion."
Though the committee split largely along party lines - Waxman leading the Democratic majority in attacking Clemens's veracity, the Republicans assailing McNamee - it was Clemens who spent most of the hearing on the defensive, buffeted by an array of newly released evidence, including a deposition in which his close friend, Andy Pettitte, said the seven-time Cy Young Award winner admitted to him as early as 1999 that he had used human growth hormone.
The committee also released a sworn affidavit from Pettitte's wife, Laura, corroborating her husband's account of his conversation with Clemens.
Pettitte's account proved particularly troublesome for Clemens, who found himself in the precarious position of acknowledging his friend's integrity while rebutting his sworn testimony. Time and again, Clemens testified that Pettitte "misremembers," "misheard," or "misunderstood" their conversations.
In one version of his denial, Clemens said Pettitte may have misunderstood because Clemens told him that it was his wife, Debbie, not he, who had received an HGH injection from McNamee. However, the injection took place in 2003, years after Clemens's alleged conversation with Pettitte.
Clemens said Debbie felt "wiggy," itchy, and sensed circulation problems after the injection. He said he verbally blasted McNamee over the complications, but he acknowledged under questioning by Representative John Tierney, a Democrat from Salem, that he never sought medical attention for his wife.
Several lawmakers portrayed Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, both former Yankee teammates of Clemens, as paragons of honesty in the face of their own misdeeds.
Pettitte and Knoblauch, who were excused from the hearings, both stated in sworn depositions that McNamee not only told the truth to investigators for the federal government and former senator George Mitchell that he injected them with HGH, but that he understated their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Pettitte told the committee that after McNamee injected him with HGH several times in 2002, Pettitte injected himself with human growth hormone in 2004. Pettitte said he previously had not told anyone outside his family about the additional injections.
"One day I have to give an account to God and not to nobody else of what I've done in my life," Pettitte stated in his deposition. "That's why I've said and shared the stuff with y'all that . . . that I wouldn't like to share with y'all."
Knoblauch, in his deposition, also supported McNamee's story. Knoblauch told the committee he, too, gave himself injections after McNamee injected him with illegal performance enhancers.
Knoblauch, who brought his young son to the deposition, said he made the admissions because he was "trying to teach [his son] a lesson that you need to do things in life that you are willing to talk about openly and to tell the truth."
By contrast, Clemens struck Waxman and other lawmakers as less than forthright. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said he was swayed to believe McNamee rather than Clemens because of the testimony by Pettitte and Knoblauch.
"I hate to say it because you're one of my heroes, but it's hard to believe you," Cummings told Clemens.
Clemens, though, found a number of allies on the panel. Several Republican members hammered McNamee for not being fully truthful with previous investigators about Pettitte and Knoblauch. McNamee also acknowledged withholding physical evidence until last month that he says further implicates Clemens in the steroid scandal. In addition, McNamee admitted lying to police about an alleged sexual assault in Florida in 2001.
"This is really disgusting," Representative Dan Burton of Indiana told McNamee. "You lie when it's convenient for you. I don't know what to believe, but I know one thing I don't believe, and that's you."
McNamee also took heat for describing himself for several years as a doctor despite obtaining a PhD in behavioral sciences from a school he admitted was a diploma mill.
"It seems PhD might stand for Pile it Higher and Deeper," Representative Mark Issa, a California Republican, told McNamee. "Shame on you."
McNamee later came under fire for participating in baseball's steroid scandal after serving as a New York City police officer.
"I view you as a police officer who is a drug dealer," Representative Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, said over McNamee's objections.
Clemens and the Republicans also tried to undermine McNamee's credibility by providing statements from numerous individuals, including former slugger Jose Canseco, rebutting McNamee's claim that Clemens attended a party at Canseco's Miami home in 1998, shortly before Clemens allegedly began using steroids.
The strategy faltered when Waxman produced an affidavit from Clemens's former nanny saying she saw Clemens at Canseco's house around the time of the party, though she did not recall the party. Waxman said Clemens met with the nanny Saturday and may have tried to improperly influence her testimony, an assertion Clemens denied.
Clemens ultimately acknowledged he may have dropped off his wife at Canseco's party.
"But I know one thing," he said. "I wasn't there huddled with somebody trying to do a drug deal."
Clemens also sparred with committee Democrats over conflicting reports about an abscess that developed on his buttocks in 1998. Clemens provided documents stating the sore stemmed from an injection of B-12 he received from a physician for the Toronto Blue Jays, while Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from South Boston, said an Army medical specialist determined the abscess could have resulted from a steroid injection.
Defiant through much of the hearing, Clemens once glared toward McNamee and declared, "Somebody is trying to break my spirit in this room. They are not going to break my spirit."
As the hearing concluded, Clemens registered one final objection as Waxman referred to Pettitte in summarizing his doubts about Clemens's veracity. All but bolting out of his seat, Clemens interjected, "It doesn't mean [Pettitte] was not mistaken."
"Excuse me," Waxman replied, "this is not your time to argue with me."
Clemens and McNamee were separated at the witness table only by Charles Scheeler, the lead investigator for Mitchell's investigation. Scheeler played such a minor role in the proceedings that one lawmaker said he asked him a question so he wouldn't feel like "a potted plant."
Seated in the second row of the hearing room was Jeff Novitzky, the chief federal investigator in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative scandal. Novitzky has helped convict seven individuals, including track star Marion Jones, and bring charges against former Giants slugger Barry Bonds of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Novitzky turned McNamee into a cooperating witness, leading to Mitchell's allegations against Clemens. And Novitzky could play a role if prosecutors were to seek charges against Clemens.
While the House committee could ask the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens or McNamee lied under oath, the Justice Department also could act on its own. Neither entity is expected to make a hasty decision, though McNamee's lawyer, Richard Emery, saw no reason to wait.
"It's not going to be hard to prove that he lied today," Emery said of Clemens. "We believe he will be referred [for a criminal investigation] because the evidence is so overwhelming."
Tierney said the hearing left "a lot of open questions" that require examination before the committee decides whether to seek sanctions.
Clemens made only a brief statement afterward.
"I'm very grateful and very thankful for this day to come," he said. "I'm glad for the opportunity finally. I hope I have the opportunity to come here to Washington again under different terms."
His lawyers said they generally believe Clemens received a fair hearing, though they declined to speculate whether he was persuasive enough to avoid a criminal investigation.
"We'll just let everybody judge for themselves," Rusty Hardin said. "I think Roger showed the kind of person he is and, at the end of the day, those with an open mind will be receptive."
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.