June 12, 2006
Does Barry Bonds Really Want to Talk to George Mitchell?
An AP story (here) reports that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is willing to speak with former Senator George Mitchell in his investigation of steroid use in baseball, conditioned on one very big "if." The if is that Bonds must be assured the information will not be given to the Department of Justice for use in the grand jury investigation of whether Bonds committed perjury in 2003 when he testified about steroids supplied by Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative). The grand jury has already heard from a number of witnesses, and the recent search of the home of former major league player Jason Grimsley has also been linked to the Bonds investigation.
Can Bonds get the assurances his attorney says he needs, or is this all a smokescreen to make it appear that Bonds is willing to cooperate but that his hands are tied because of those mean federal investigators? The parties could agree to a type of civil protective order, although whether that would be enforceable in the absence of a judicial officer's endorsement is an open question. More importantly, under Ninth Circuit precedent (the case is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California), In re Grand Jury Subpoena Served on Meserve, Mumper & Hughes, 62 F.3d 1222 (9th Cir. 1995), grand jury subpoenas trump such protective orders even when issued by a federal judge in civil litigation. Any agreement between Bonds and Mitchell would have no effect on the grand jury's power to obtain the evidence, which would not be subject to any privilege claim or the like.
Would the Department of Justice join such an agreement not to used Bonds' statements to Mitchell's investigators? That sounds like a type of quasi-immunity, something prosecutors are unlikely to grant without first hearing from Bonds or his attorney about the content of his statements -- that whole "buying a pig in a poke" problem. It is not clear what upside, if any, prosecutors would see in agreeing not to use any statements Bonds might make about steroid use. If he simply reiterates his grand jury testimony, there is nothing gained. If he were to contradict that testimony and be indicted for perjury, not only could the statements not be used, but Bonds could argue for a type of "use fruits" protection on the ground that disclosure of his statements would be an impermissible use that has tainted the government's investigation. One of the scariest phrases to federal prosecutors is "Kastigar hearing," which is a hearing to determine whether the government has used immunized testimony in any way in a subsequent prosecution. That was the ground on which Oliver North's convictions were overturned, and the mere mention of a Kastigar hearing sends chills down the spine of prosecutors because it means they have to show an independent basis for all their evidence, a difficult standard to meet. Any hint of immunity for Bonds, even informal immunity, creates this possibility, and the San Francisco U.S. Attorney's Office is unlikely to see the Mitchell investigation as worth creating that kind of risk to a perjury prosecution.
Bonds' attorney surely is aware of all these considerations, and how unlikely it is that the government will grant such protection to statements by Bonds. I suspect that spin has already begun, with Bonds trying to show how "cooperative" he is and that federal prosecutors are unwilling to hear his side of the story. The grand jury investigation promises to get warmer as the summer moves on and the pennant races heat up. (ph)
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