Since word broke of Roger Clemens’ indictment on perjury charges, we’ve been hearing how he brought this on himself — not by lying, but by insisting on testifying before Congress. We hear how Clemens was offered the chance not to appear, but he demanded it in an attempt to clear his name. This in not entirely accurate, and I don’t think it is being reported clearly in the media.
Clemens went on the offensive days after the Mitchell report named him as a steroid user. He went on “60 Minutes,” held a news conference, and posted a YouTube video proclaiming his innocence. That was certainly his right if he felt he was wrongly accused.
But then Congress jumped into action. “The Mitchell report has been called into question,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, who was the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and a former Clemens supporter. “We were invested in the Mitchell report, and it was important historically to show that the Mitchell report was correct.”
Why would Congress be” invested” in a report by a private individual (Mitchell), representing a private enterprise (MLB)? That is an excellent question. It probably has something to do with the government’s role in this private matter. As Forbes magazine writes in an article titled “The Roger Clemens Witch Hunt”:
Mitchell got to interview some individuals due to the coercive powers of federal prosecutors. In other words, federal prosecutors used their immense and special power to get witnesses to talk to Mitchell and tell him things. Mitchell says at one point in his report that these interviews were arranged through the “assistance of federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents.”
Was this appropriate? I don’t know, but the end result is that government had a stake in the report, hence Davis’ comment that Congress was “invested” in the report.
In any case, the Committee called for a hearing, and deposed, among other people, Clemens, his main accuser and former trainer Brian McNamee, and Andy Pettitte. After the depositions were taken, Davis said the Committee decided it had enough information, and decided the hearing was unnecessary, telling Clemens he wouldn’t have to testify at an open hearing. “We’ll give you a chance to clear your name, but you don’t have to do this,” Davis said he told Clemens and his legal team.
But Davis said Clemens insisted, and the hearing went on. Pettitte was also given a choice, and he decided not to testify.
Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has a very different view on the events. ESPN writes:
“Let me tell you what a hypocrite he is,” Hardin told ESPN.com’s Mike Fish, referring to Davis. “The week before the public hearings we give a deposition. So when they say Roger demanded a hearing — he didn’t demand a hearing. Everybody finished their depositions. Waxman [Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat and committee chairman] is getting a lot of pressure at that stage from the Democrats. We’re going around to all their offices. Nobody wanted a hearing.
“On Friday afternoon [four days before the hearing], Waxman gets the affidavit from Andy [Pettitte] that has Andy more definite than he was in his deposition. And in return for that he tells Andy he doesn’t have to testify.
“Then they announce to us at 3 o’clock that Friday, ‘Roger can decline to testify if he wants to and we won’t have the hearing. We’ll just issue a majority [Democratic] report. And the minority, the minority [Republican] is saying to us staff, ‘Here is what [Waxman] is going to do. What they’re going to do is hammer [Clemens]. They’re going to refer him to Justice.’ So nobody would have heard Roger [if he didn’t appear at the hearing].
“So Tom Davis, who I saw on TV last night, comes down to us, calls us aside and urges us to have Roger testify. And now that son of a bitch is on TV saying that Roger insisted upon it.”
Davis is sticking to his story, telling The New York Times that the committee probably would not have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens had lied if he had not chosen to appear at the televised hearing. “If he let it go at the deposition level, I don’t think we would have referred it,” Davis said. “But when it’s high profile like that, you can’t let it go. And we didn’t.”
That’s a bit hypocritical if you ask me. Why is lying in a deposition better than lying in a televised hearing? Lying in a deposition is just as illegal — Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton will attest to that. The fact of the matter is that Clemens had already given the deposition prior to his infamous public testimony, so he had nothing to lose by testifying at the hearing. It’s easy for Davis to say now that they wouldn’t have referred the case to the Justice Department based solely on the deposition, but he probably would have been pressured to do so by his grandstanding Committee colleagues.
Obviously, Clemens could have avoided all of this all by telling the truth — and who’s to say he didn’t? The evidence against him looks strong, but it’ll be up to a jury to decide if he’s lying or not.
But to say that Clemens brought this on himself by “insisting” on testifying in nonsense. Yes, it might have been his option to have the hearing, but it was Congress who deposed him and forced him to tell his story, which could have resulted in the same charges. If Congress would have kept its nose out of what is essentially a private affair, Clemens would never have had to testify under oath, and he and McNamee could have battled it out in the media or in a civil court.
This should not be read as a defense of Clemens. As a Mets fan, I am obviously not a Clemens booster. But I don’t think the way this is being reported is fair to him. This was yet another example of publicity-seeking members of Congress getting involved in matters that they shouldn’t, and Clemens got caught up in it, unfortunately for him, as it turns out.