Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Congressional hearing on steroid use in baseball played out largely as expected with Representatives beating up on Commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr. The session began with a bit of a surprise, though, when House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman announced that he and the ranking Republican, Representative Tom Davis, sent a letter (available below) to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation of a player for possibly lying to Committee investigators. The object of the referral is Miguel Tejada, a former American League MVP who was recently traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Houston Astros. Tejada was interviewed by the Committee when it investigated one of his teammates, Rafael Palmeiro, who famously testified in the first round of steroid hearings in March 2005 by asserting that he had never used steroids. A few months later, Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, and claimed that he might have gotten them when Tejada gave him an injection of what he thought was vitamin B-12 -- interestingly enough, the very same thing Roger Clemens admitted Brian McNamee injected him with, but not steroids. To investigate whether Palmeiro committed perjury, Committee investigators interviewed Tejada and had the following exchange:
Committee Staff: And you, I believe, testified to this earlier, but I just want to make sure, have you ever taken a steroid before?
Mr. Tejada: No.
Committee Staff: Have you ever taken any illegal performance-enhancing drugs?
Mr. Tejada: No.
Committee Staff: Have you ever taken Andro or any other steroid precursor?
Mr. Tejada: No.
Unfortunately, Tejada is mentioned in the Mitchell Report as having received from an Oakland A's teammate testosterone or Deca-Durabolin, as well as human growth hormone, and the Report includes copies of three checks from Tejada to his teammate. In asking for an investigation, the two Congressmen assert, "In light of the conflicts between the statements that Mr. Tejada provided to the Committee and the evidence in Senator Mitchell's report, we ask the Justice Department to investigate whether Mr. Tejada made knowingly false material statements to the Committee in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001."
Is another investigation of an athlete for lying about steroid use really necessary? In addition of the perjury prosecution of Barry Bonds, we've seen former Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones given a six-month prison term for making false statements to federal agents, one of which concerned steroids received from Balco. Unlike those criminal investigations, however, this one involved a Congressional Committee interview on a topic that was at best peripheral to any real legislative business. The March 2005 steroids hearing that featured a number of players, including the ill-fated non-assertion of the Fifth Amendment by Mark McGwire, was for the most part the typical grandstanding seen on Capitol Hill. No legislation emerged from hearing, and nothing of any real importance from a policy perspective occurred in the testimony of the players. Now, the interview of an individual (Tejada) on issues that were at best peripheral to an unimportant -- albeit stupid -- witness (Palmeiro) may become the basis for a federal criminal prosecution.
I generally make it a point not to beat the "waste of government resources" drum about a criminal investigation for false statements because I think telling the government the truth is important. But at some point you have to wonder whether every contradiction needs to be the subject of a separate federal investigation. Simply making a public statement at the hearing, that it appears Tejada was less than completely truthful, may well have been sufficient to accomplish whatever purpose Chairman Waxman and Representative Davis had in mind when they began the hearing by announcing their letter to the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, don't think that the upcoming hearings in February with Clemens and McNamee will be any less of a circus. (ph)