Thursday, February 28, 2008
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and ranking member Representative Tom Davis sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey asking for an investigation of possible perjury by Roger Clemens about his use of steroids and HGH -- and his attendance at a party in 1998 at Jose Canseco's house. The letter (available below) does not come out and explicitly accuse Clemens of being a liar while under oath during his February 5 deposition or February 13 Congressional testimony, but it does say that "Congress cannot perform its oversight function if witnesses who appear before its committees do not provide truthful testimony. Perjury and false statements before Congress are crimes that undermine the integrity of congressional inquiries. For these reasons, we take evidence that a witness may have intentionally misled the Committee extremely seriously." Of course, Representative Waxman said after the hearing that he regretted even holding it, and nothing of any legislative importance occurred during the session, but thos minor annoyences won't stand in the way of a criminal referral.
What started out as a perjury trap has now been sprung on Clemens, with the FBI sure to begin an investigation because Congress wants one. It was clear that either Clemens or his former trainer, Brian McNamee, was lying because they told diametrically opposed stories. But the question now is whether a federal prosecutor could prove Clemens committed perjury, a much more difficult task than just saying "I don't think he's telling the truth." The Committee also released a memorandum (available below) from the staff that outlines the various contradictions in Clemens' testimony, based largely on the testimony of McNamee and former teammate Andy Pettitte, who discussed two conversations with Clemens about using HGH. The memo contains no new surprises, and sets forth the inconsistencies in Clemens' testimony in great detail.
The problem is that the standard used by the Committee staff is not what a prosecutor must use to decide whether to pursue a case. The analysis points out places where what Clemens said was "implausible" or that certain facts "bolster" McNamee's statements. But a perjury prosecution that will ride on the credibility of McNamee will involve much more than just whether there is a rational basis to believe him rather than Clemens. A criminal prosecution will involve asking a jury to believe that McNamee is truthful, not just plausible.
McNamee admitted during the Committee hearing that he has made a number of inconsistent, or even false statements, in addition to not disclosing the syringes and gauze pads he claims were used to inject Clemens until well after his interview for the Mitchell Report. Pettitte is a more credible witness, but he only remembers two conversations, one of which took place nearly ten years ago. Will Pettitte bring down his old friend, or will he waffle just enough that his testimony might not be sufficiently credible to a jury?
Perjury is among the most difficult crimes to prove because the government must establish that the defendant told an outright lie, and not just that the person dissembled or made statements that seem implausible. The standard for sending a referral to the Department of Justice is quite low, basically something doesn't look right, and an investigation can be initiated just to placate Congress. Even sending out grand jury subpoenas and calling witnesses to testify does not require anything more than a suspicion that wrongdoing occurred, which is certainly the case with the Clemens-McNamee smackdown. But the leap to proving perjury is significant, and as I've said before, if McNamee is the linchpin of the case then it will be a very difficult one to win. (ph)