Saturday, March 5, 2005

House Hearing on Steroids May Trigger Fifth Amendment Claims

The House Government Reform Committee announced that it had issued invitations to seven current and former major league baseball players and four executives, including Commissioner Bud Selig, to appear at a hearing on March 17 on the topic of major league baseball's new steroid policy.  As described in a Committee news release (here), there will be two panels with the following participants invited to testify:

Panel I:
Jose Canseco - former Oakland Athletic and Texas Ranger
Jason Giambi - current New York Yankee and former Oakland Athletic
Mark McGwire - former Oakland Athletic and St. Louis Cardinal
Rafael Palmeiro - current Baltimore Oriole and former Texas Ranger
Curt Schilling - current Boston Red Sox
Sammy Sosa - current Baltimore Oriole and former Chicago Cub
Frank Thomas - current Chicago White Sox

Panel II
Bud Selig - Commissioner of Baseball - Major League Baseball
Sandy Alderson – former General Manager, Oakland Athletics, and
current Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Major League Baseball
Don Fehr, Esq. - Executive Director & General Counsel, Major League Baseball Players Association
Kevin Towers - General Manager & Executive Vice President, San Diego Padres

According to a New York Times article (here), if the invitations are declined, the Committee will issue subpoenas to compel the appearance of the witnesses, and all witness will be placed under oath for their testimony.  Interestingly, the highest profile player caught up in the steroids issue -- Barry Bonds -- is not on the list.  Bonds and Giambi testified before a federal grand jury in the BALCO investigation, and they would be the most likely candidates to assert the Fifth Amendment if subpoenaed to testify.

Canseco's attorney asserted that his client would testify if granted immunity -- one wonders if that position is designed to help sales of Canseco's new book, "Juiced," which accuses McGwire and Palmeiro (among others) of using steroids.  Somehow, claiming the Fifth Amendment after writing a book about the subject seems a bit disingenuous, but that has not stopped Canseco before. Congress has been rather gun-shy about granting immunity since the Iran-Contra hearings in which Oliver North received immunity and testified with the assistance of his counsel, Brendan Sullivan (who asserted that he is not a shrub or other type of plant), that resulted in North's conviction being overturned on Fifth Amendment grounds. A spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va), the Committee chair, asserted that the hearing is not an attempt at grandstanding on a topic in the news because it is "a national public health issue."  Far be it from politicians to seek out the spotlight and use a hearing to garner attention for themselves. Batter up! (ph)

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