War of words in Clemens steroids probe

February 11, 2008 5:29:41 PM PST
With two days to go before they testify in Congress, Roger Clemens and his accuser continue to trade blows. Lawyers for Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, suggested a federal criminal investigation of Clemens is inevitable. Team Clemens fired back that since Roger is telling the truth, there is no need for an investigation. This, after a weekend of accusations of intimidating a federal agent were thrown at Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin. In this high stakes battle, a score card will not help keep track of the pitches being thrown.

We're four days away from Spring Training. You'd think we could talk about baseball and Houston getting back into the playoffs. Instead, we're all focused on Roger Clemens trying to get out of trouble.

Clemens' was playing the game pretty well. Last week, days away from testifying -- under possible investigation -- he was walking the halls of Congress, signing autographs, dropping in on nearly half of his upcoming congressional questioners, including the chairman of the committee, Henry Waxman.

We're not sure which representatives wanted Rocket souvenirs, but we're told the autograph signing and photo posing didn't stop when Roger got behind closed congressional doors.

And that's pretty good strategy, says Philip Hilder.

Hilder knows a thing or two about Washington hearings. He represented Enron whistleblower Sharon Watkins when she testified before Congress in 2002.

"It allows him to learn where they're coming from on the questioning and secondly, it humanizes him to the committee members and may blunt any sharp edge there may be," said Hilder.

Then this weekend, Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin, may have set the prep work back, seemingly challenging IRS agent Jeff Novistsky. Hardin told the New York Times, "If he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch."

Novitsky apparently plans to be in the room when Clemens testifies in Washington on Wednesday. His presence could shake the Rocket a little bit, since Novitsky's previous work led to federal charges against Barry Bonds.

Hardin's comments weren't received all that well. In fact, any good will created by Clemens' visit to Congressman Waxman vanished. Waxman accused Hardin of trying to intimidate a federal agent. Waxman wrote in a letter also released to us, "I trust you did not intend your comments to be a signal that there could be adverse repercussions to a federal law enforcement official for attending the hearing."

It did get Hardin to say he used inelegant words he wished he'd avoided. But then Hardin accused the congressman of trying to intimidate Roger, too. So maybe the back and forth are little more than pre-game boasting.

"A comment like that means nothing," said Hilder. "To the extent that it invoked a congressman to write a letter, really means that the congressman may not have had anything better to do on a Sunday."

Making a congressman mad adds to the drama of Wednesday's hearing. But remember Hardin's comment was about a federal IRS agent. KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy told us it isn't a good idea to antagonize the agent. If the agent hasn't decided whether to pursue Clemens criminally, daring him to do so probably isn't the best idea.

Retired player Jose Canseco is defending Clemens, saying Brian McNamee is lying. In the Mitchell Report, McNamee claims Clemens brought up steroids for the first time after a party at Canseco's house in 1998. In a phone interview with USA Today, Canseco says the Rocket was not at that party.

In his 2005 book, 'Juiced,' Canseco admits he talked to Clemens about steroids, but they only joked about it.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will learn more about HGH during a special hearing, including how it can help some people. Eyewitness News reporter Jessica Willey will be in Washington for Wednesday's hearing. She'll have live reports beginning tomorrow Tuesday night.

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