Mitchell, Selig, Fehr kick off Congressional steroid hearing

Updated: January 14, 2008, 11:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Bud Selig and Donald Fehr return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, three years after a theatrical hearing where the baseball commissioner and players' union head were chastised for what lawmakers called a lax steroids policy.

Much has changed since then, including a toughening of the sport's drug-testing rules and penalties. But allegations about players' use of performance-enhancing drugs still hound baseball, especially since Roger Clemens was named last month in former Senate majority leader George Mitchell's report on the steroids era.

Mitchell will testify first before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, appearing alone, followed by Selig and Fehr, side by side. Lawmakers can be expected to press all three on recommendations in the Mitchell report, including a call for the major leagues to bring in an outside anti-doping test agency.

"The aim is to get the report straight from the horse's mouth, Sen. Mitchell," Rep. Tom Davis, who chaired the panel in 2005 and is now the ranking minority member, said Monday in a telephone interview.

"We're going to make news tomorrow. I don't think this is going to just be the stale same-old, same-old. I can't say anything else. There will be some additional things coming out of this. And, of course, we'll hear from Clemens next month."

Unlike on March 17, 2005, Selig and Fehr will not share the spotlight with players. That was the day Mark McGwire repeatedly said, "I'm not here to talk about the past," while Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger for emphasis and told the committee: "I have never used steroids, period." Palmeiro was suspended by baseball later that year after testing positive for a steroid.

This time, the committee plans a Feb. 13 hearing with Clemens and Andy Pettitte -- two of the more than 80 major leaguers named by Mitchell -- and their former trainer, Brian McNamee.

Clemens' lawyer met with committee staffers Monday to begin discussing under what format the seven-time Cy Young Award winner might answer questions before testifying under oath next month. The committee wants the witnesses to take depositions.

"We agreed to continuing talking," said Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin. "It was a very pleasant meeting. They were courteous and open-minded."

Sources told ESPN's T.J. Quinn on Monday that after apparently hedging over the weekend, Hardin told the committee that Clemens will cooperate with their probe and will agree to be deposed in private.

Sources told ESPN Saturday that Hardin had "made noises" about producing Clemens, suggesting that a deposition might interfere with Clemens' defamation lawsuit against McNamee. A source said over the weekend that the committee might have to subpoena Clemens to appear if that was the case, but after Monday's meeting committee staffers are confident Clemens will appear willingly. Hardin had already said Clemens would be willing to testify under oath in an open hearing, but experts said Sunday that a private deposition by committee lawyers is far more probing than a hearing with questions posed by members of Congress.

McNamee told federal prosecutors and Mitchell that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone; Clemens has repeatedly denied what amounted to the most sensational allegations in the Mitchell report. Neither Clemens nor McNamee has testified under oath.

"I don't think there's any question that Roger's going to appear before the committee, and that he'll be out there before the full lights, answering questions," Davis said. "It's in everybody's interest that you sit down and talk before that, in one form or another, but we're still discussing that with him."

First things first, though.

It sounds as though Selig has won over some members of the committee by merely asking Mitchell to conduct his investigation -- and by beginning to follow some of the report's recommendations, including setting up a permanent branch of the commissioner's office responsible to look into drug use in the sport.

Fehr might expect tougher questioning.

"The players' union needs to be very careful and keep in mind we're talking about the integrity of the game," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. "If they do not act now, I don't know when they're going to act. We have now been provided with information that says that we do have a problem, some of it systemic."

Management and the union will be pressed about moving testing outside their control.

"That's something we've felt strongly about: "The more independent and transparent the testing authority is, the better the program's going to be," said Phil Schiliro, chief of staff for committee chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.

Schiliro said Fehr and Selig can expect to be questioned about how they would modify baseball's drug policy further.

Representatives indicated Mitchell will be asked about what sort of cooperation he received from players.

"Maybe some of the members will be interested to know how he determined some players were and some players weren't involved. Might be helpful to know that answer," said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican. "In other words, he named about 80 players. Does that mean the others do not use steroids or that he just doesn't know?"

The committee continues to work on gathering evidence ahead of the Clemens-McNamee hearing.

Davis said the panel has received the full tape of a Jan. 4 telephone conversation between those two men -- secretly recorded at the player's end -- that Clemens' legal team played at a news conference. The congressman said the committee is working to get a recording of a conversation between McNamee and investigators who work for Clemens' law firm. That took place Dec. 12, a day before the Mitchell report was released.

Another House committee that scheduled its own hearing on steroids in professional sports announced Monday that the Jan. 23 session would be postponed to accommodate witness schedules.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.