Bottom Feeders

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, February 14, 2008

The world might look very different today if Congress had spent as much energy probing Iraq for weapons of mass destruction as it did yesterday examining Roger Clemens's derriere.

At the invitation of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Rocket, a seven-time Cy Young winner, had come to Washington to testify about his role in baseball's steroids scandal. And lawmakers hit him where the sun doesn't shine.

"Just for the record, as I understand it, there was an injury on Mr. Clemens's buttocks," said Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and "the injury was related to an injection."

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wanted to know more about "the palpable mass on his buttocks."

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), recalling that Clemens suffered "soreness," asked the witness: "Do you recall any bleeding through your pants in 2001?"

But the great pitcher maintained that his sore hindquarters -- and his spectacular success in baseball -- had nothing to do with getting steroids injected into his bottom.

"I did it the right way, and I worked my butt off," he said.

That could account for the palpable mass.

The hearing had been called to test the credibility of the report by former Democratic senator George Mitchell on steroid use in baseball -- and to adjudicate Mitchell's assertion, based on testimony by Clemens's former trainer, that the Rocket used steroids. Instead, the session managed to discredit most everybody in the room: Neither Clemens nor his accuser, Brian McNamee, seemed credible at the witness table, and lawmakers left the impression that they have too much time on their hands.

A week after several House staffers stretched ethics rules by posing for photos with Clemens and seeking his autograph, lawmakers were star-struck. "He's a titan in baseball," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). "We are very proud of your professional achievements," submitted Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) saw fit to inquire "what uniform you will wear to the Hall of Fame." Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) admired "the stamina and body build that you have."

An impressive 25 members of Congress suited up for the hearing. Reporters had more difficulty gaining entrance to the session than they do for State of the Union addresses and Supreme Court confirmations. Outside the room, hundreds of fans lined up to shout encouragement at the paunchy pitcher: "Roger, we got you, man! . . . Go, Team Rocket." One of those shouting, Patrick Read, wearing a Clemens T-shirt, suspected that the lawmakers were up to no good. "They're obviously trying to cover up Mitchell's mistakes," he said.

Though the showdown was between the hurler with the Texas twang and the former New York cop who accused him, lawmakers quickly took sides. Republicans went to bat for Clemens -- thereby undermining the work of the Democratic Mitchell. Democrats pinch-hit for McNamee -- thereby bolstering Mitchell's conclusion.

Democrats lined up the substantial evidence, scientific and circumstantial, implicating Clemens. "How can this all be wrong?" demanded Lynch -- prompting Davis to accuse Lynch of "a new definition of lynching." Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the facts "swing the balance over to Mr. McNamee" and told Clemens that "it's hard to believe you."

Clemens, in a rose-colored tie, licked his lips frequently, scratched his nose, drummed the table and gave other signs that he did not enjoy his surroundings. His lawyer evidently thought his client was performing poorly, for he bolted from his seat in the audience to defend Clemens, in violation of committee rules.

McNamee, who freely admitted lying to investigators, came in for even worse from the Republican side. "Disgusting," judged Burton. Rep. Chris Shays (Conn.) called him a drug dealer. Rep. Darryl Issa (Calif.) sputtered at McNamee: "Shame on you."

But "shame" was a dangerous word for lawmakers to be throwing around yesterday. Waxman, the chairman, elicited chuckles at the press table when he asserted at the start that "we have no interest in making baseball a central part of our committee's agenda." Davis, the ranking Republican, acknowledged that they risked "criticism that we're grandstanding."

Now, where would somebody get that idea? Maybe from Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who powdered her face, applied her lipstick, then asked the pitching great: "Mr. McNamee injected your wife with HGH in your master bedroom without your knowledge?"

If that sounded wide of the strike zone, consider the important public benefit of the panel's discussion of a barbecue at Jose Canseco's house ("the night before the barbecue, the Blue Jays lost 4 to 3 in 17 innings"), Clemens's tee times ("your golf receipt that day is time-stamped 8:58") and the description of the Clemens children's nanny ("She was wearing a peach bikini").

The game had obviously gone into extra innings, and by the end Davis acknowledged that the Mitchell report "remains largely intact." For both witnesses and questioners, however, it would be hard to put this one in the win column. The Rocket headed for the Republican dugout, where Davis shook his hand. Thankfully, he did not pat Clemens on the buttocks.

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