A ‘Rocket’ that never should have launched

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Regular viewers of C-SPAN might be surprised to learn that you can actually go to jail for lying to Congress.

So the perjury trial of Roger Clemens, if nothing else, should serve as a cautionary tale. While lawmakers might not mind deceiving each other _ let alone the rest of us _ about a wide range of issues, they’re in no hurry to extend that privilege to anyone else.

In April, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl got caught telling a whopper about Planned Parenthood, which he tried to walk back in a subsequent statement by explaining it was “not intended to be a factual statement.” That won’t work for Clemens. With jury selection set to begin Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Clemens is charged with six felony counts for telling a House Committee under oath in 2008 that he never used steroids or human growth hormone during a star-studded career.

What’s sad is how easily the whole mess could have been avoided. After being implicated in MLB’s Mitchell Report, Clemens could have denied using performance-enhancers in a forum of his own choosing and quietly slipped into retirement while the debated raged on; or else, admitted using PEDs and then asked for forgiveness, the way close pal, former teammate and potential witness Andy Pettitte did.

Instead, Clemens begged Congress to make a federal case out of it. Even after former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the committee at the time, assured Clemens that his testimony behind closed doors would have been sufficient.

But that was not the Rocket’s style.

“Somebody is trying to break my spirit in this room,” Clemens said during testimony that February day three years ago, refusing to so much as glance at Brian McNamee, his former trainer and principal accuser. “And they’re not going to break my spirit.”

Maybe not.

But McNamee’s version of their decade together has already made a sizable dent in his former employer’s wallet, mostly to cover lawyer Rusty Hardin’s legal fees, which could charitably be described as throwing good money after bad.

Under Hardin’s counsel, Clemens played a secretly recorded phone conversation for reporters in which he came off sounding like a budding Mafioso, then stormed out of his own hastily arranged news conference because he didn’t like the line of questioning. Then there was Hardin’s veiled threat against federal agent and investigator Jeff Novitzky _ “If he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch.” And just for good measure, a defamation lawsuit against McNamee that was effectively laughed out of court.

Hardin, though, wasn’t kidding when he laid out the centerpiece of his legal strategy in a pretrial hearing Tuesday, arguing that McNamee began planning to blackmail his client in 2001.

The trainer was questioned by local police that year _ but never charged _ after allegations that he drugged and raped a woman in a Florida hotel pool while on a trip with the Yankees. McNamee’s contract with the club was not renewed after the investigation, which according to Hardin, prompted the trainer to begin fabricating evidence against Clemens so that the pitcher would keep him on as a personal trainer. The lawyer said Clemens did so, anyway, but that McNamee kept swabs, gauze pads and syringes with Clemens‘ DNA on them, then added the PEDs himself just in case.

Throughout the long-running drama, McNamee has come off as neither a sympathetic figure nor a trustworthy one, despite working for the New York City police force before becoming a trainer. During his appearance before the House Committee, he was derided by a few Republican members as a liar, cheat, drug dealer and even mocked for using the title “doctor” in business dealings after getting his Ph.D. from a diploma mill.

But McNamee’s story from that day forward has never changed.

“I told the investigators I injected three people _ two of whom I know confirmed my account,” he said then, referring to Clemens‘ teammates, Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch. “The third is sitting at this table.”

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