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When House Members Attack: The Clemens Hearing

Three things became increasingly clear at today's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee baseball steroids hearing. One, Roger Clemens's story sure looks suspicious. Two, Brian McNamee--Clemens's accuser and former trainer--is an all-around shady character. And three, Henry Waxman and his pals could make Attila the Hun into a sympathetic figure. They spent much of the hearing berating Clemens rather than asking him questions--and over minor details at best tangential to the underlying question of whether Clemens used steroids.

The big news to come out of the hearing is that Clemens's friend and former teammate, Andy Pettitte, has testified in a deposition that Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that Clemens was using human growth hormone (HGH). Clemens's response--that the conversation in question wasn't about his own HGH use, but was prompted by a television show about three elderly men who used HGH to improve their quality of life--simply isn't very persuasive. Nor is his lament that he wanted to talk with George Mitchell's staff, but never learned from his agents that Mitchell wanted to speak with him. Clemens was also at a loss to explain apparently contradictory statements he's made under oath--telling the committee, on the one hand, that he had never talked with McNamee about HGH, but also that he had confronted McNamee on two occasions after McNamee had injected Clemens's wife with HGH.

One saving grace for Clemens is that McNamee's credibility problems are at least as bad as his own. (The hearing ended up being strangely partisan, with Democrats on the panel attacking Clemens and the Republicans going after McNamee.) McNamee lied to Florida authorities during the course of a 2001 rape investigation, and then was sued for failing to pay his legal bills stemming from the case. He also claimed to be a doctor after receiving a "Ph.D." from an online diploma-mill university, and neglected to tell federal investigators that he was in possession of syringes and bloody gauze he used while injecting Clemens with steroids. All of which prompted Indiana Rep. Dan Burton to exclaim, "Gee whiz, are you kidding me? I know one thing I don't believe, and that's you."

At the outset of the hearing, committee chair Henry Waxman revealed that his inclination had been to cancel the hearing and merely outline the committee's findings in a report, but that Clemens's attorneys had asked for it to go ahead. Today it became clear why: over-the-top questioning, especially from Waxman and Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, actually achieved the remarkable feat of making Clemens look like a victim. Lynch's questioning concerned an abscess that developed on Clemens's buttocks in July 1998, allegedly after a botched steroid injection by McNamee. Clemens claims the abscess formed after an injection of vitamin B-12 by the Toronto Blue Jays' team doctor. Lynch took Clemens to task, citing one doctor's analysis of Clemens's MRI that suggested the abscess was more consistent with a botched injection of steroids than B-12. (A doctor hired by Clemens reached an opposite conclusion.) So, to summarize, Lynch interrogated Clemens about a ten-year-old butt bruise that may or may not be indicative of steroid use. Said ranking minority member Tom Davis: "This gives a new meaning to the term 'lynching'."

Then it got even weirder. A major point of contention at the hearing concerned whether or not Clemens attended a barbecue lunch at Jose Canseco's house in Miami in 1998, where McNamee claims he saw Clemens and Canseco discussing steroid use. There are conflicting accounts of whether Clemens was there (Canseco and other Blue Jays officials say he wasn't), but Clemens's children were there along with their nanny. The committee staff asked Clemens for the nanny's name and contact information, and asked his lawyers not to contact her before they did. Clemens and his lawyers apparently disregarded this request and interviewed her before the committee could. Waxman scolded Clemens for creating the "appearance of impropriety," and then got into a shouting match with Clemens's lawyers, while Clemens played his aw-shucks act perfectly: "I just thought I was doing y'all a favor by finding the nanny." And everyone acknowledges that resolving this issue wouldn't actually shed all that much light on the underlying question of whether Clemens used steroids.

The hearing was certainly a public spectacle, but in the end, Waxman may have been better served by following through with his original intention of simply releasing a report and letting the pathetic facts speak for themselves. His pitbull persona didn't suit the occasion well, and Clemens got a chance to spew bromides like "I want kids to know there are no shortcuts. You have to work hard. ... Steroids are bad for you. They're bad for your body. I want kids to know that." For all Waxman's superior investigative skills, he's not cut out to fight public-relations battles with a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.

--Josh Patashnik

(Photo: Getty Images)