The witness, Brian McNamee, never got a chance to answer. A federal judge cut him off, agreeing with prosecutors that the question was better answered by jurors. But the query nevertheless highlighted the high stakes of what may turn out to be the trial’s key moment — the cross-examination of the only person with first-hand knowledge of Clemens’s alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The importance of the testimony was also reflected in the august wood-paneled federal courtroom in the District, which on Wednesday had the air of a playoff game. The gallery was packed with spectators as well as a gaggle of reporters and relatives of the prosecutors, defense attorney and Clemens. A few attorneys, uninvolved in the matter, attended to catch what promised to be a dramatic show.
Hardin picked up right where he left off questioning McNamee briefly on Tuesday afternoon: aggressively trying to lay the ground work for his argument that Clemens’s former friend and strength coach cannot be trusted.
A flamboyant attorney clad in a cream-colored seersucker suit and an orange tie as bright as a reflective safety vest, Hardin spoke in a quick Southern drawl and jabbed his left finger at McNamee while pressing him about his motives and inconsistent statements. At one point, Hardin dramatically placed an easel next to the witness. In large black letters, Hardin wrote, “Mistake,” “Bad Memory” and “Lie” — categories, he said, that would help to classify the witness’s past statements.
Despite the pressure, the former New York City police officer mostly held his ground over two hours of questioning. At one point, he even challenged the defense lawyer by saying, “You have to ask Roger that.”
McNamee, 45, is expected to return to the witness stand on Thursday for more questioning, which is only expected to grow more heated as Hardin delves into the trainer’s checkered past.
The trial started last month and is the second crack federal prosecutors are getting at “The Rocket” on charges he lied to Congress in 2008 when he denied ever having taken performance-enhancing drugs. The first trial was halted last year when prosecutors presented prohibited evidence to jurors. This time around there has been more drama: another witness and former Clemens teammate, Andy Pettitte, agreed with defense attorneys that his memory of a key conversation was “fifty-fifty” at best.
Observers expected more fireworks Wednesday when Hardin got his first real opportunity to question McNamee. The strength coach, who worked with Clemens from 1998 through 2007, testified that he first heard the star pitcher mention steroids during spring training in 1998.
At the time, Clemens had already won three Cy Young awards and was in his second-year as a starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. McNamee was the team’s new strength coach. As pitchers were exercising in the outfield, McNamee testified he overheard Clemens mention that he didn’t play football at the University of Texas because he “wasn’t willing to take a shot in the thigh.”