Congress asks DOJ to prove whether Clemens lied under oath

Updated: February 27, 2008, 11:51 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Roger Clemens failed to convince Congress he was telling the truth.

So the leaders of a House committee want the Justice Department to investigate if the star pitcher lied under oath about using performance-enhancing drugs.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman and ranking Republican Tom Davis said Clemens' testimony that he "never used anabolic steroids or human growth hormone warrants further investigation."

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner gave a sworn deposition behind closed doors Feb. 5, then spoke alongside his accuser, former personal trainer Brian McNamee, at a public hearing Feb. 13.

"We are not in a position to reach a definitive judgment as to whether Mr. Clemens lied to the committee," Waxman and Davis wrote. "Our only conclusion is that significant questions have been raised about Mr. Clemens's truthfulness."

The letter noted Clemens' testimony was "directly contradicted" by the sworn statements of McNamee, who said he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH at least 16 times from 1998 to 2001. Waxman and Davis also pointed to the deposition and affidavit of Clemens' good friend and former teammate, Andy Pettitte, who told the committee Clemens "admitted to him in 1999 or 2000 that he had taken human growth hormone."

"The contradictions and conflicts in what Clemens had to say, as compared to what others had to say, raised the issues about him," Waxman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think there was an issue about Brian McNamee, but there certainly were issues about Roger Clemens."

Waxman's committee turned its attention to the matter because Clemens' repeated and vigorous denials of McNamee's allegations questioned the legitimacy of the Mitchell report, prepared by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell and released in December.

After Clemens and McNamee stuck to their he-said, he-said stories under oath, it was expected that one or the other -- or perhaps both -- would be referred to the Justice Department for a criminal inquiry. Instead, only Clemens faces a possible perjury investigation, after the committee decided not to refer McNamee.

MLB could discipline Clemens

If Roger Clemens were to return to pitch in the majors this season, Major League Baseball would consider suspending him because of the Mitchell report, but based on precedent may choose not to discipline him.

"It's done on a case-by-case basis," Pat Courtney, MLB's vice president of public relations, told 1050 ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand.

Commissioner Bud Selig has not set any definitive guidelines on how he would handle discipline based on the findings of the Mitchell report. But it is believed he is leaning against penalizing players who took HGH or steroids prior to baseball's testing program.

Clemens is alleged to have taken performance-enhancing drugs up to 2002, so if he were to return he may be able to escape a suspension. Major League Baseball didn't begin testing until 2003.

Clemens is currently serving as a special instructor to the Houston Astros.

"Not everybody can be right, and the preponderance of the evidence in this case points to the fact that Clemens' comments are the most incongruous," Davis told the AP. "We are asking Justice to see what was the truth and what wasn't the truth."

The Justice Department may decide to pursue or ignore Congress' request. Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department "is reviewing the letter and has no further comment at this time." If an inquiry is opened, it likely would be by federal investigators in Washington.

Clemens' prominent place in the Mitchell report already tainted the legacy of a player who ranks eighth in major league history with 354 wins and is considered the greatest pitcher of his generation. That generation's greatest hitter, home run king Barry Bonds, was indicted in November on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his 2003 testimony to a grand jury in which he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, a key member of the team prosecuting Bonds, sat in the second row during the Clemens-McNamee hearing.

"Now we are done with the circus of public opinion, and we are moving to the courtroom," Clemens' lead lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told the AP in a telephone interview. "Thankfully, we are now about to enter an arena where there are rules and people can be held properly accountable for outrageous statements."

Clemens didn't answer questions Wednesday when approached by reporters at the Houston Astros' spring training camp in Kissimmee, Fla. Pettitte, with the New York Yankees in Florida, declined comment through a team spokesman.

"It's what we expected, but Brian is not joyful about this. No one is celebrating," said McNamee's lead lawyer, Earl Ward. "We think it's a sad and unfortunate situation that one of baseball's greatest pitchers now has the potential of being a defendant in a criminal case."

Waxman sent committee Democrats an 18-page memo prepared by his staff outlining reasons for the criminal referral. The memo summarizes "seven sets of assertions made by Mr. Clemens in his testimony that appear to be contradicted by other evidence before the committee or implausible."

Those areas involve Clemens' testimony that he has "never taken steroids or HGH;" that McNamee injected him with the painkiller lidocaine; that team trainers gave him pain injections; that he received many vitamin B-12 injections; that he never discussed HGH with McNamee; that he was not at then-teammate Jose Canseco's home from June 8-10, 1998; and that he was "never told" about Mitchell's request to speak to him.

Those same issues are highlighted in the letter to Mukasey, which stated: "We also understand that federal law enforcement officials may have access to additional evidence on these matters." That is a reference to needles, blood-stained gauze and other items McNamee turned over to federal prosecutors in January for DNA testing.

Davis, who was the chairman of the committee when it held its 2005 hearing with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, said Justice should focus on the core question of whether Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs.

"The material issue here isn't whether Roger was at a party or not, whether he took lidocaine or not," Davis said. "The material issue is whether he took steroids or HGH or not."

The Feb. 13 hearing divided mostly along party lines, with Democrats giving Clemens a rougher time, and Republicans reserving their toughest questions for McNamee.

"Given the letter that the committee has sent out, the Republicans who attacked him owe him an apology because of the manner in which they went after him, calling him a 'drug dealer,' a 'liar,'" Ward said. "The decision to send out a referral letter says quite clearly that Brian McNamee told the truth."

Hardin repeated what he has been saying for weeks: He expected the Justice Department to get involved.

"Roger has known since December that if he publicly took the position he has taken, this would be the result. The good news is we are now going to be on a level playing field," Hardin told the AP. "These matters are now going to be decided in court and by the ultimate lie detector -- a jury."

The committee's majority staff drew up a letter of referral to the Justice Department, then consulted with the minority side.

Just last month, Waxman and Davis asked for an investigation into whether 2002 American League MVP Miguel Tejada lied when he told committee investigators in 2005 that he never took performance enhancers and had no knowledge of other players using or talking about steroids. The FBI did open a preliminary inquiry into that case.

The committee pointed to evidence in the Mitchell report that it said contradicted statements given by Tejada, now with the Astros.

"In this Clemens issue, we got more involved. ... We have a more complete file to turn over," Waxman said, adding that Wednesday's action ends his committee's role. "Now to get to the end of this matter, we're turning it over to where this properly belongs, to see if they think criminal charges should be brought."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press