Clemens Circus Comes to Congress

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Former New York Yankees baseball pitcher Roger Clemens, center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008, before the House Oversight, and Government Reform committee hearing on drug use in baseball.

Minutes before 10 a.m. on Wednesday, they lined up about a hundred deep, down a long drab hallway in a House office building. They were there to grab a glimpse of Roger Clemens, who was on Capitol Hill to declare his innocence, under oath, of the allegations that he used steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. "Intern gawkers," one House staffer called them, comparing the current hysteria to the scene in the mid-1990s, when Pearl Jam testified in the same hearing room about Ticketmaster's monopoly. There were many grown-ups waiting in line as well: Natalya Seliuk, 30, donned a Clemens T-shirt, while her fiancé wore a Roger shirt and sport coat. "I would love to meet Roger Clemens, yes," says Seliuk, who grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and now works at a D.C. non-profit. "I find him to be an honorable player. What they're doing is wrong."

Those lucky enough to steal a seat in the hearing room — 8 spots were reserved for the public, and staffers rotated people in and out every 15 minutes or so — were treated to a sometimes amusing, often frustrating, and largely uninformative major league congressional circus. When Clemens finally entered the room, everyone hushed, as if church had just begun, before the hundreds of camera clicks punctured the brief silence. He sat at the same table as his accuser, ex-trainer Brian McNamee, with poor Charlie Scheeler, a lawyer who helped pen former Senator George Mitchell's landmark report on baseball's steroid era, nudged between them. It almost seemed as if the low-key Scheeler were there simply to prevent Clemens and McNamee from eyeing one another; at one point, a congressman finally asked Scheeler a question, fearing he was becoming a "potted plant."

By the end, after close to a five hour he said/she said hearing, the only thing cleared up was that someone had to be lying to Congress — and that someone could face a perjury charge. No one cracked, and no one seemed a particularly compelling witness or solid citizen. Clemens at times talked too fast, got testy, and went off on tangents (his sacrifices for USA Baseball), but he always stuck to his claim that McNamee had injected him a few times with just B-12 and Lidocaine. McNamee, for his part, looked overwhelmed and shifty, admitting he had told some lies at times but insisting he "injected Roger Clemens with steroids in his butt."

All the while, members of Congress seemed to split along party lines in their assessment of Clemens' credibility — the Democrats pointing out the holes in his story, their Republican counterparts attacking McNamee at every chance. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, berated a beaten-down looking McNamee for being a "drug dealer," while another member of the committee chided him for getting a Ph.D. in nutritional counseling from an online "diploma mill." The only reasonable voices on the committee were the few members who pointed out that the hearings in and of themselves made no sense at all; if they weren't going to interview all the 89 players named in the Mitchell Report, what were they doing refereeing the dispute between the most famous one and his sad-sack accuser?

Things did kick off to a promising start: committee chairman Henry Waxman, the Democrat from California known for his bulldog congressional investigations, revealed a juicy bit of news. Andy Pettitte, Clemens' former Yankee teammate — and according to Clemens, still good friend — had told Congress in a sworn deposition that in 1999 or 2000, Clemens "told me he had taken HGH (human growth hormone)." Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who emerged as the most sensible House member in the room, asked Clemens if he thought Petitte was an honest guy. Clemens said yes. He then asked him if the conversation to which Pettitte alluded to ever happened. Clemens said no. So what gives? Reminding Clemens, for the second time, that he was under oath, Cummings asked Clemens if Pettitte was lying. "I think Andy has misheard," Clemens responded, before stammering about how he had in fact talked to Pettitte about "a TV show . . . or something I heard about, three older men who were using HGH and getting their quality of life back from that."

Cummings sensed something was up, and kept pressing, playing up Pettitte's honesty; Pettitte had also privately told the committee he had used HGH in 2004, not just the one occasion in 2002 cited in the Mitchell Report. Plus, Cummings pointed out that McNamee's performance-enhancing allegations against Pettitte and another ex-Yankee, Chuck Knoblauch, turned out to be true. So why would both Pettitte and McNamee lie about Clemens? The Rocket insisted Pettitte "misremembered" their conversation. Cummings had Clemens on the defensive, and was ready to keep pressing. Sadly, he ran out of time, but not before it had become clear that Pettitte was the most important man not in the room — and that the committee should have compelled him to testify.

The next few hours meandered, verging at times into the realm of a bad malpractice trial. Massachusetts Democrat Daniel Lynch cited a doctor who said a "palpable mass" Clemens once had on his buttocks was consistent with steroid use, while Rep. Tom Davis, the outgoing ranking Republican on the committee, quickly pointed out that another doctor reached just the opposite conclusion. He proceeded to call Lynch's questioning "literally, a new definition of lynching."

During much of the hearing, everyone in the room seemed to be obsessed over whether or not Clemens came to a barbeque at Jose Canseco's house in Miami back in 1998. McNamee had told Mitchell's investigators that admitted steroid user Canseco huddled with Clemens at that party — Clemens and Canseco were Toronto Blue Jays teammates, and McNamee worked for the team — and that shortly thereafter, Clemens asked him about steroids. In the run-up to the hearing, Clemens and his legal team had firmly denied ever being at the party, and even presented some evidence that seemed to back up their claim.

No one seemed to understand that the party answered nothing about whether or not Clemens used steroids. Everyone agreed that, even if Clemens was there, he wasn't shooting steroids at the party. Or talking about how he had done steroids. But perhaps bored by the all the talk of needles, members of Congress wouldn't let the seemingly inconsequential issue drop.

McNamee said he remembered seeing a bikini-clad woman chasing kids by the pool, a woman he had heard was Clemens' nanny. The nanny in question came up again when Waxman went so far as to suggest that Clemens had created an "appearance of impropriety" by talking to his former nanny after the committee made it clear to his legal team that they wanted to interview her. Clemens' lawyers rose to his defense, Waxman banged his gavel, and the hearing moved onto yet another sideshow without, yet again, anything at all being resolved. By the time 2:30 rolled around, not a single person wanted to be in that room.

After the hearings, Waxman wouldn't rule out referring the investigation to the Justice Department for a possible perjury probe. Jeff Novitzky, the tall, bald IRS agent and federal steroid investigator who helped convict Marion Jones and indict Barry Bonds, was one of the first people to arrive at the hearings, and he would surely love a crack at Clemens. After all the yapping was over, Clemens, surrounded by seven security officers, strolled down a hall on his way out of the House. He walked by Nadia Seyliuk and her fiancé. Seyliuk didn't get to meet Clemens, but she gave him a nice wave. After all the talk on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, we're no closer to knowing whether it's time to say goodbye to his Hall of Fame legacy.