WASHINGTON — A federal court jury saw snippets of Roger Clemens denying steroid use at a now-famous 2008 congressional hearing, then listened Monday as Clemens‘ lawyer tried in fits and starts to declare that proceeding to be “nothing more than a show trial” that shouldn’t have taken place.
The perjury retrial of the seven-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher entered its third week, which unfolded as yet another session bogged down by constant objections. The day ended, however, with a cliffhanger that could prove crucial to the outcome.
The judge appears on the verge of deciding whether the government can broaden its case by bringing in witnesses such as former Clemens teammate Chuck Knoblauch, who has acknowledged use of human growth hormone as stated in the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
The Clemens team doesn’t want such testimony to reach the ears of the largely baseball-ignorant jury, but prosecutors argued it’s a necessary rebuttal if Clemens‘ lawyer continues to question the motive behind the hearing.
“They can’t have their cake and eat it, too,” prosecutor Steven Durham said. “This simply isn’t fair.”
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes sniping was again nastier than anything the jurors have yet to hear in court. Clemens‘ lawyers used a written response, to a government motion filed with the court, to aim their latest broadside at the government’s key witness. They claimed that Clemens‘ former strength coach Brian McNamee has a past that “contains more dirt than a pitcher’s mound.”
If nothing else, prosecutors cleared a psychological hurdle when they managed to get through the day without getting into trouble with U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton. It was during the first trial last July that they played an excerpt from the 2008 hearing that had been ruled inadmissible — prompting Walton to declare an embarrassing mistrial in an already costly case.
The retrial, resuming after a five-day break and expected to last several more weeks, still seems light years away from addressing the principle question that could matter most to the jurors when they decide whether Clemens lied to Congress: Did he use steroids and human growth hormone during his remarkable 24-year career?
As it was, the court spent Monday hearing a second day of testimony from the trial’s first witness, Phil Barnett, who was majority staff director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when that committee held the 2008 hearing.
Prosecutors used Barnett to try to establish that Congress was within its bounds when it called the hearing, which took place two months after Clemens was named in the Mitchell Report. The government has maintained that the validity of the Mitchell Report was important, in part because of overall concerns over steroids and HGH as a public health issue.
“Let me be clear: I have never used steroids or HGH,” Clemens said confidently in the videotape of the hearing.
Taking his turn to question Barnett, Clemens‘ lawyer Rusty Hardin tried in several ways to raise doubts about the validity of the hearing, but many of his questions were met with objections by the government or by an attorney from the House of Representatives, leading to several private conferences at the judge’s bench and one debate that took place with the jury out of the room.
Hardin told the judge he wanted to show that the hearing “was nothing more than a show trial of Roger Clemens on that day” and “nothing more than to punish the man who had the temerity to say he did not commit a crime.”