Canseco says he'll appear at House hearing either way
WASHINGTON -- Retired baseball star Jose Canseco wants immunity if he is to testify fully at a congressional hearing on steroids, but a spokesman for the lawmaker who will chair the proceeding offered no promises Thursday.
Meantime, another House panel held the first of what it said could be a series of hearings on steroids, with several congressmen chastising baseball for what one called its "extremely weak" drug-testing program. The subcommittee chairman said all major U.S. sports leagues should work toward uniform steroid penalties.
Canseco has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and his recent book describes a culture of rampant steroid abuse in baseball. He is among seven players summoned to appear at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee.
"We've asked for immunity," said Canseco's lawyer, Robert Saunooke. "We hope they give it to us. We're still going to show up even if we have no immunity and offer whatever testimony we can that does not expose Jose to legal liability."
But David Marin, a spokesman for committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said: "At this point, there are no plans to offer immunity to any witness."
The committee has issued subpoenas to the seven players and four other people, compelling them to appear. Major League Baseball has said it will fight the subpoenas.
Whether they are granted immunity from prosecution for statements made to the panel will be determined by Davis in consultation with others on the committee and the Justice Department.
If immunity were granted, any prosecutor who wanted to charge Canseco would have to prove his statements before Congress were not used as evidence to bring such charges.
"My interest has been piqued tremendously by the very defensive reaction of Major League Baseball. It's really outrageous," said Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, the No. 2 Republican on the committee. "We're not trying to embarrass anyone, unless they embarrass themselves."
California Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee's ranking Democrat, said he would not be opposed to immunity. He sees the hearing as a chance to find out about the role of steroids in the majors and to address the effect on young athletes, not to expose whether individual players used the drugs.
"With all the reports we've had in the past decade -- Major League Baseball has refused to investigate," Waxman said. "Now with the great interest in the subject because of Jose Canseco's book, and people who said they did and did not use steroids, it's brought things to a head.
"Major League Baseball is taking an attitude that they don't want to know what happened or maybe they did know and they don't want anyone else to know."
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas are the other players subpoenaed. Some were in the process of hiring lawyers and deciding whether to act jointly or individually.
"If I'm going to talk about anything, I'm going to talk about myself," Giambi said in Tampa, Fla. "I'm not going to speak for anybody else or talk about anybody else."
McGwire's spokesman said he hasn't decided whether to appear.
Meanwhile, Thomas stood by his comments from earlier in the week, saying he was honored to be invited to Washington. On Monday, he had said that problems with flying -- he feared his injured ankle would swell -- might prohibit him from attending the scheduled hearing.
Now, Thomas said he is willing to fly.
"[Agent] Arn [Tellem] also said there's a possibility they will fly some people down and depose me [at spring training in Arizona.] So I guess if they do that, it will be easier for me. ... But there are ways to try and help [the ankle]. I'll ice there and I'll ice when I get back here. If it's that serious that they need us to get there, then I'm willing to go."
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball lawyer Stanley Brand said the committee had no jurisdiction and was interfering with a San Francisco federal grand jury investigation involving steroids.
Davis and Waxman responded Thursday, sending Brand a letter stating "your legal analysis is flawed. ... Any failure to comply with the committee's subpoenas would be unwise and irresponsible."
"Baseball and ballplayers do not, by virtue of their celebrity, deserve special treatment or to be placed above the law," they wrote.
No players were invited to Thursday's Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, where Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, said his panel might issue subpoenas for commissioners of the major sports leagues.
Barton said use of performance-enhancing drugs is tainting sports and its stars, noting that as San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds pursues the career home run record there are questions about whether he's been aided by steroids.
"With Babe Ruth, people didn't worry about him taking steroids. They worried about him eating another hot dog," Barton said.
Waxman said Bonds wasn't among the players asked to appear because "the feeling was that if he were invited, all the attention would go to Barry Bonds and would distract from the overall mission of the hearing."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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