Commentary

Congress owes it to us, and itself, to take hearings seriously

Updated: February 11, 2008, 9:03 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

What, no photo ops of Roger Clemens buying a case of Thin Mints from a Washington, D.C., Girl Scout troop? No footage of the big guy singing the National Anthem at a local American Legion hall? How about a charity car wash on Capitol Hill, where The Rocket personally details the rides of every member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform?

There's still time left before Clemens is scheduled to testify in front of some of his new buddies on the house committee, so anything is possible. Maybe Team Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin can still arrange for his client to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. TV crews welcome.

Of course, you can mock the shameless Hardin all you want, but at least one of his tactics seems to have had the desired effect. It was a tactic so simple and so devastatingly effective that if several of the committee members aren't careful, a congressional hearing could become a daylong Clemens infomercial.

Late last week, Clemens met individually with nearly half of the 41 committee members he'll address under oath Wednesday. It was as if a visiting dignitary had arrived. Clemens seemed, given the surroundings, almost presidential.

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AP Photos/Susan WalshRoger Clemens, walking Friday on Capitol Hill with attorney Lanny Breuer, will testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday.

The most disturbing aspect of the private brown-nose sessions is the trickle-down effect they could have when Clemens testifies. In short, did his visits Thursday and Friday (I'm surprised Hardin didn't hand out Free Roger T-shirts to the lawmakers and staff) compromise the integrity of this week's proceedings?

So starstruck was Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., after his private meeting with Clemens, the Brooklyn congressman all but shared a pinch of Copenhagen tobacco with the pitcher. There was even a post-meeting photo session with Towns' staffers.

Meanwhile, Clemens' accuser and former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, was extended no such courtesy. He gave his seven hours of deposed testimony to congressional lawyers and then left without comment. Who wants a picture with a creepy guy who saves syringes and bloody gauze when you can pose with the great Clemens?

In case you're wondering which way Towns is leaning, he suggested that McNamee, not Clemens, could eventually be charged with perjury. And he called McNamee's saved collection of needles, steroid vials and gauze allegedly used by Clemens as, "weird" and "strange."

Towns could have said the same thing about Clemens' decision not to meet with former Sen. George Mitchell, or to secretly record a phone conversation with McNamee, or to angrily cut short his one and only news conference after promising to answer any question asked.

And isn't it weird and strange that Hardin hasn't denied McNamee's allegation that the trainer injected Clemens' then-39-year-old wife with human growth hormone before she posed in a bikini for Sports Illustrated? (By the way, nice six-pack abs.) Or that nobody on Team Clemens still can explain why McNamee would lie about Clemens' alleged use of performance enhancers, but not lie about the use of PEDs by Andy Pettitte, who just happens to be a Clemens friend, workout partner and former teammate?

But that would have cut into Towns' photo op time with The Rocket, wouldn't it?

Towns had better give us an honest day's work Wednesday. All 41 of the committee members owe us, Clemens, McNamee, Pettitte, Mitchell and baseball that much.

Congress wanted this hearing. Now that it has it, the committee members can't afford to whiff on their questioning. This isn't BP. This is the real thing.

Rep. Edolphus Towns
AP Photo/Dennis CookRep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1983.

Think about it. The committee has what Mitchell's investigation never had: subpoena power, the gravitas of nationally televised congressional proceedings, and the threat of perjury charges and prison time against anyone who lies during the sworn testimony. Most of all, it had Clemens, McNamee, Pettitte, former major leaguer Chuck Knoblauch, and former New York Mets clubbie and recently sentenced steroid distributor Kirk Radomski scheduled to speak at one point (Monday night, lawyers close to the case told ESPN's T.J. Quinn that Radomski, Pettitte and Knoblauch will not testify, however).

Someone is going to raise his right arm Wednesday, swear to tell the truth and then immediately begin to lie. Will it be the right-hander Clemens, the left-hander Pettitte or the accuser McNamee, who says he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH 16 different times?

In the end, it will come down to 42 people: Pettitte and those 41 committee members. If Pettitte knows where Clemens' PED skeletons are buried -- and discloses the information, as he did when he confirmed McNamee's testimony about his own use of HGH -- then The Rocket won't have enough heat tiles to re-enter the baseball atmosphere. Rocket's red glare.

But if Pettitte doesn't implicate Clemens, then McNamee's accusations are considerably weakened. And the he-said, he-said continues.

This is where the committee members come in. It's up to them to drill to whatever depth is required to reach the truth. Pettitte's testimony is a key component, perhaps the key component of the hearings.

But the committee can't call it a day simply based on what Pettitte says. There are too many inconsistencies in Clemens' previous explanations, and too many questions created by McNamee's allegations. And sorry, Rusty, but I don't think McNamee is risking significant jail time because, as you suggest, Clemens didn't provide him with Bruce Springsteen concert tickets.

Weird and strange. That about sums up what we're going to see and hear Wednesday.

But if the 41 committee members do their jobs, maybe we'll also hear some honest answers. Otherwise, the whole day will be nothing more than a taxpayer-funded, dog-and-pony photo op.

And we already know Clemens and Towns know how to say, "Cheese!"

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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