- Mike Fish
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WASHINGTON -- Five years after enlightening a congressional subcommittee with tales of rampant doping in baseball and penning a tell-all book, Jose Canseco returned Wednesday to prepare to reaffirm a 2008 affidavit he signed backing former teammate Roger Clemens, who remains under investigation for perjury.
Canseco -- baseball's self-proclaimed "godfather of steroids" -- didn't come to the nation's capital with startling revelations or accusations. Instead he arrived at the Justice Department building just before 10 a.m. ET for an interview session that dragged into late afternoon with federal authorities, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Butler, who is heading the Clemens case.
Thursday, Canseco appears before the grand jury that has sporadically heard evidence over the past 16 months on whether Clemens lied before Congress when he denied using steroids.
"I support the truth," says Canseco, sipping black coffee in a hotel restaurant Wednesday morning. "It is not a support of Clemens or anybody. I support the truth, that is all there is to it. And if you fall in that category of the truth, you are supported by the truth."
Canseco, the 1988 American League MVP who is as proudly chiseled as the day he last put on a uniform, has been out of the game for almost a decade, but at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday he got in a workout at his hotel gym. After a few hours of sleep and breakfast, he dressed in designer jeans and a casual black sport jacket highlighted with embroidered designs, then marched the five blocks or so to meet up with federal prosecutors and two FBI agents assigned to the case.
Obviously aware the government has gone hard against those caught lying to agents or before grand juries as it has probed sports-related steroid cases -- i.e. Marion Jones, Trevor Graham, Tim Montgomery, Barry Bonds and Clemens -- Canseco carefully portrays himself as solely a truth-teller, not just a friend of Clemens.
Federal authorities spent part of Wednesday debriefing Canseco on his early introduction to performance-enhancing drugs while with the Oakland A's. They questioned him about allegations made about players in two books he has written. But specifically, they wanted to know about Clemens and details of a 2008 affidavit Canseco signed -- an affidavit which supports Clemens at the expense of his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, who accused Clemens of steroid use in an appearance before Congress.
The line of questioning is certain to be the same when Canseco is put under oath before the grand jury. As he prepared to kick off the two days of interrogation, Canseco told ESPN.com that he wasn't about to back off the affidavit that he signed under oath.
"I stand 100 percent by the truth, exactly what happened," said Canseco, accompanied by his Los Angeles-based attorney Gary Holmes. "If I signed it that is the way it really happened. I don't know of any individuals who are saying anything different. I have no idea what is going on with that. I can just say exactly what happened."
The affidavit focuses on events surrounding a now infamous 1998 barbecue hosted by Canseco at his Miami home for Toronto Blue Jays teammates, as well as whether he knew of Clemens' alleged steroid use. McNamee, who faced off against Clemens before Congress, has testified that Clemens was at the party. McNamee has said it was after he saw Clemens and Canseco engaged in conversation at the party that the pitcher broached with him the idea of using steroids.
Clemens has testified that he never attended the party. In his affidavit, Canseco backs Clemens up fully, though he changed his story slightly in his ESPN.com interview, suggesting his longtime friend may have showed up late to the luncheon.
"It is such a long time ago," he told ESPN.com. "I remember I was very mad at him because he didn't show up when the actual party was. He may have showed up later on to pick up his wife or whatever it was, but I remember for the major part of that barbecue party he was not there.
"I think later on he did show up. And he made an appearance to pick up his wife or his kids. I don't remember if I saw him briefly or if he had already left. I know he came towards the latter part of the event to pick somebody up."
Canseco said the affidavit was the brainchild of Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin. He remembers flying to Houston with a longtime friend, his high school baseball coach from Miami, reading over the affidavit and then signing it. A round of golf with Clemens didn't go off as planned because of bad weather.
"His attorneys called me and said, 'Jose, remember the day this happened?'" Canseco said. "I said, 'yeah.' He asked if I'd be willing to tell the truth and sign an affidavit for Roger.
"So they flew me down with a friend that also knew Roger. We went to the attorney's office right away, maybe 10 or 11 at night. He showed me the affidavit. Everything seemed right and I signed it."
Despite media speculation that he might finger Clemens as a steroid user in his second book, "Vindicated," Canseco never named the former Cy Young Award winner. Even today, two years after McNamee and Clemens appeared in front of Congress, Canseco understands the speculation because of Clemens' late-career mound mastery. He remains adamant, however, that he has no evidence of any use by Clemens.
As good of friends as they are -- and they played together on three different teams -- Canseco said Clemens never picked his brain about using steroids or how to acquire them.
"Back then everybody came to me for any type of knowledge or wanting to acquire steroids or chemicals," Canseco said. "Or if they wanted to be put in contact with someone who could acquire steroids or chemicals, they would come to me. I was kind of amazed that Roger never came to me for that. I knew him well. We were golf buddies. We were friends. I knew his wife, his kids. They knew my family.
"You would think he would trust me enough if he was using steroids to come to me and ask me information about it or how to acquire it. But he never did."
That's not to say they never discussed drugs, though mostly in clubhouse banter.
"I was never aware of him using anything," he said. "Of course, we would comment on it jokingly like other athletes and players. I think people get confused and still don't understand that back when I played it was acceptable and something we were all doing. I don't think people are grasping that. I don't think they understand how commonplace it really was, to where you could openly talk about it and joke.
"To the extent that -- not that I talked to Roger this way -- it'd be, 'Hey, your veins are popping out of your arms you're so big now. You must have used Deca today? Or did you shoot up for the at-bat? Or you just hit that ball 600 feet, you must have done a good [steroid] cycle?' I came in the league '85-86. This was 'til when I left. It was a very acceptable environment that we lived in."
Canseco has been on the mark with his steroid allegations about specific MLB players, among them ex-teammates Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. In the case of Clemens, though, Canseco did portray him as a loyal, nonstraying husband in his first tell-all book. Tabloid accounts over the past couple of years have disputed the wholesome image.
"I'll be honest, either he was an angel or really good at hiding stuff because I never ever saw him cheat," Canseco said. "And I was, 'Wow, this is a perfect guy here. Never cheated on wife, All-American guy, four boys, Roger Clemens.'"
As for speculation that he's benefited financially from his support of Clemens, Canseco says, "No, not even close. I have not benefited from Roger in any way, shape or form.''
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.
Jose Canseco returned to Washington on Wednesday to prepare to reaffirm a 2008 affidavit he signed backing former teammate Roger Clemens, who remains under investigation for perjury.