Friday, February 8, 2008

The Smoking Syringe?

If you've ever been tempted to say "I've seen everything," then the absurd theater that took place in the Rayburn House Office Building between Roger Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee should give you pause.  With a phalanx of cameras and reporters at every turn, Clemens visited a number of Congressional offices to pitch his story, no doubt signing a few autographs for starry-eyed staffers, and may even a couple Representatives, too.  This is all in preparation for the very public House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday, February 13, when Clemens, McNamee, and two other players, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, will testify about performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball. 

How often does a witness meet with most of the Committee members in advance to just shoot the breeze and hang out?  The timing of Clemens' appearance put him in the same building as McNamee, who met for eight hours with investigators from the Committee for his deposition in advance of the hearing, thus stealing at least some of the limelight from his former trainer.  In the pre-hearing jousting, McNamee's lawyers fired back by releasing pictures of syringes and gauze pads that their client claims were used for the steroid and HGH injections of Clemens, and they purportedly may have traces of The Rocket's DNA on them. 

Is this the "smoking gun" that will somehow prove whether McNamee or Clemens is lying?  The answer, of course, is that there are no smoking guns -- or syringes in this instance -- except if you're reading a Sherlock Holmes story or listening to the Nixon White House tapes.  McNamee's evidence dates from six to eight years ago, and may not yield any link to Clemens.  But even if it does, will that somehow prove that Clemens knowingly took steroids and has been lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs?  While everyone talks about perjury charges, none have been filed or are even in the offing at the moment, so this is all a bit premature.  Moreover, remember that Clemens did say earlier that McNamee gave him vitamin B-12 injections, so there is surely a Barry Bonds "I thought it was flaxseed oil" defense available, if it comes to it.  On a second front, Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has been hard at the vilification of McNamee: "How do you deal with someone who comes out with a psycho thing like sitting on a syringe for nine years?"  The fact that McNamee kept such items for a number of years raises questions about what he intended to do with the materials, assuming they are what he claims them to be.  Even if there are traces of Clemens' DNA on the syringes, that does not establish what was in his mind, which is required for any perjury (or false statement) charge.  It isn't just what you say, but more importantly your knowledge that the assertion was not truthful that gets you convicted.  And proving what's in a person's mind, especially if the syringes could be explained as coming from vitamin B-12 injections, makes a perjury charge very difficult to establish.  The absurdity of the whole process certainly raises the questions about why the valuable time of Congressmen and their staff is being used for meetings with Clemens and a deposition of McNamee.  In the end, does any of this really matter, aside from the opportunity to appear on camera? 

On the lighter side, one of the photographs (here) released by McNamee's lawyers was of a syringe in a pile of rather nasty looking gauze and cotton balls, with a crushed Miller Lite beer can in the background.  Are we being asked to believe that Clemens drinks Miller Lite along with his steroids and HGH injections?  Or is the can there to give a little perspective to the pile?  I doubt we will see this shot in a future Super Bowl commercial.  A Newday story (here) discusses the day's events. (ph)

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