On Capitol Hill, Clemens Denies Steroid Use
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Legendary baseball pitcher Roger Clemens faced the trainer who has accused him of using steroids and human growth hormone and repeatedly denied the charges during a contentious congressional hearing yesterday that left lawmakers deeply divided about whom to believe and uncertain whether Clemens should face a federal investigation for possible perjury.
Clemens, 45, who has been a dominant pitcher with several teams during 24 seasons, seemed confident and resolute during the 4 1/2 -hour hearing in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform despite facing intense skepticism and criticism from many lawmakers. He gave testimony under oath that was directly contradicted by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, a cooperating witness in a federal steroids investigation who sat a few feet from Clemens at the table.
"This man," Clemens said, "has never given me HGH or growth hormone or steroids of any kind."
The dramatic, jam-packed hearing -- the committee's third on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball since 2005 -- marked the latest in a long string of drug-related developments and disclosures that have damaged the sport's credibility and raised significant questions about the achievements of the some of the game's most revered players.
Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) vowed that it would be the committee's last word on the issue, but virtually nothing was resolved by the end of a grueling hearing that was punctuated by accusations, angry interruptions and gavel-pounding. Waxman and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the ranking minority member, said they did not know whether to refer the matter to the Department of Justice. They said they would have to study the hearing transcript to decide whether Clemens or McNamee should face felony perjury charges, which carry a possible sentence of five years' imprisonment.
Committee members seemed split almost along party lines on whether they believed Clemens or McNamee; many Democrats focused their sharpest questions on Clemens while many Republicans were more critical of McNamee. The result: Baseball was left with an unresolved crisis and the same old image problems about performance-enhancing drugs as spring training opens this week in Florida and Arizona.
"How can this be the last hearing?" former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said in a telephone interview afterward. "All this is meaningless in the sweep of things in history. . . . What's important is eliminating the larger problem."
McNamee's allegations against Clemens were publicly revealed in a report on steroid use in baseball authored by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, that was released in December. More than 80 players besides Clemens were implicated in the report, and a handful acknowledged afterward that they had used steroids or human growth hormone.
Clemens and his attorneys, however, challenged the accuracy of the report almost immediately upon its release. Clemens's position, Waxman said, forced the committee -- which had urged such an investigation in 2005 -- to follow up by calling yesterday's hearing. The committee also questioned Mitchell, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and union chief Donald Fehr during another hearing in January, but Waxman said, "We have no intention of making baseball a central part of this committee's agenda."
Some of the most tense moments came when Waxman and other lawmakers accused Clemens of inconsistencies and outright lies and said the available evidence, including a signed affidavit from New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, seemed to favor McNamee's claims. In the affidavit, Pettitte, a longtime friend and teammate of Clemens, said Clemens admitted using human growth hormone in a private conversation.
"It's hard to believe you, sir," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) told Clemens near the hearing's conclusion. "I hate to say that. You're one of my heroes, but it's hard to believe you."
Most of the Republican committee members, however, seemed to side with Clemens, with some challenging the legitimacy of the hearing. Others attempted to shred the credibility of McNamee, who under harsh questioning was forced to admit he had previously made false statements to police, federal investigators, newspaper reporters and others.
"I don't know what to believe, [but] I know one thing I don't believe and that's you," Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said, adding, "How does [Clemens] get his reputation back if this is not true?"
Clemens and McNamee were not the only parties hit with heavy criticism. Several lawmakers implicitly criticized Waxman and Davis for calling the hearing, saying it departed from the committee's function and jurisdiction.
Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Ga.) derisively called it a "show" trial and Burton referred to it as a "circus." Others attacked Mitchell's report, which relied solely on McNamee's testimony in naming Clemens.
Baltimore-based attorney Charles Scheeler, a member of Mitchell's investigative team, defended the report during the hearing. He sat between Clemens and McNamee throughout the session.
McNamee said in the Mitchell report that he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs 16 times between 1998 and 2001. Pettitte, who was excused from testifying, said in a sworn affidavit that Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 he had used human growth hormone, but denied that use in a later conversation. Clemens refused to say that Pettitte lied, characterizing his testimony as a misunderstanding.
Clemens and McNamee disagreed on a number of topics. McNamee said Clemens told him to inject his wife, Debbie Clemens, with human growth hormone in 2003 in preparation for her modeling a swimsuit in a photo shoot; Clemens claimed he only found out about the injection later and angrily confronted McNamee.
McNamee also said Clemens attended a barbecue at the Miami home of retired baseball slugger Jose Canseco in 1998. Clemens -- who was supported in a sworn affidavit by Canseco and his ex-wife and other testimony -- said he wasn't there and provided receipts from a round of golf that day to prove it. McNamee alleged bloody syringes and needles he turned over to federal investigators in January were from injections he gave Clemens; Clemens countered that the only shots he received from McNamee were of Vitamin B12 and the painkiller lidocaine.
Waxman, meantime, accused Clemens of possible impropriety for talking with his nanny before allowing the committee to interview her about the Canseco party; Clemens said he was only trying to help the committee by delivering her to him.
"It's rare . . . to have the situation the committee faces today," Waxman said. "Mr. Clemens and Mr. McNamee have both cooperated fully with us, and both have given us sworn statements. They both insist that they are telling the truth, but their accounts couldn't be more different. . . . It's impossible to believe this is a simple misunderstanding. Someone isn't telling the truth."
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.