Clemens hearing causes split along party lines

February 14, 2008 7:35:30 PM PST
In the Roger Clemens primary, the Republicans nominated the Rocket. The Democrats went with the other guy. That was the feeling on Capitol Hill on Thursday, the day after the seven-time Cy Young Award winner defended himself before Congress. Showing that even baseball isn't exempt from America's Red State-Blue State divide, questions such as "How did Roger do?" were often followed with something like: "Why are the two parties bickering over this?"

"Of all the things to become partisan over," Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said Thursday, "this was the wrong one."

Cummings was among those who strongly questioned Clemens' credibility in testimony involving the pitcher's former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, during Wednesday's 4 1/2-hour hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Republicans, for the most part, saved their searing comments for McNamee, who was repeatedly called a "drug dealer" by Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

"I thought the tone of the hearing was a little askew," said Rep. Diane Watson, a California Democrat. "I told Mr. Clemens that I didn't think it was going to be a court trial or an inquisition, but I think some of the members did go out of their way to be accusatory without having all of the facts.

"It is hard for me to discern who was not telling the truth and who was. Both men denied the other one's claim. I saw the questioning kind of divided, with some on the Republican side calling Mr. McNamee a liar and some on the Democratic side really questioning Clemens, and so I don't think we got anywhere on that."

Theories abounded over why the sides couldn't see eye to eye.

Richard Emery, one of McNamee's lawyers, said that some Republicans treated his client harshly because of Clemens' friendship with the Bush family. Emery predicted the pitcher will be pardoned by President Bush should Clemens be indicted or convicted of anything related to the hearing.

"It would be the easiest thing in the world for George W. Bush, given the corrupt proclivities of his administration, to say Roger Clemens is an American hero, Roger Clemens helped children," said Emery, an attorney who has worked for liberal causes. "It's my belief they have some reason to believe they can get a pardon."

Not surprisingly, Clemens' camp -- and the GOP -- saw things differently.

"Richard Emery just has to quit smoking his own dope," said Rusty Hardin, one of Clemens' attorneys.

As for a pardon from a president? "I'm not aware of Mr. Clemens having been charged with anything," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.

A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa of California said the hearing's partisan tone evolved because Republican members felt the hearing was overly focused on Clemens instead of the broader concerns raised in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball.

"It's clear Democrats had expected a government-funded, TV show trial, and now they're whining that Republicans didn't want to play," said the spokesman, Frederick Hill. "The hearing was supposed to be about the Mitchell Report. The Democrats are at fault for focusing on individual wrongdoing instead of the validity of the Mitchell Report."

Said Issa: "We're not supposed to have these kinds of spectacles."

But a spectacle it was, much like the 2005 hearing that featured Mark McGwire and his oft-repeated statement: "I'm not hear to talk about the past." That hearing damaged McGwire's reputation immeasurably, but it is also spurred baseball into stricter penalties and more frequent testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

The ramifications from Wednesday's hearing might not be known a while. McNamee said he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. Clemens said he has never used either. Since both were under oath, one or both could face charges stemming from making false statements or obstructing.

As for Clemens' reputation, even one of his lawyers conceded the pitcher might have not have given an All-Star performance.

"In all of my years of watching politics, I'm never seen a good witness before Congress," Hardin said. "If there are members of that committee that think they're adverse to you, and when you have the chairman adverse to you, you're not going to appear good. The average citizen is not a good witness before (the bright lights). This guy is the greatest pitcher of all time, and that's what he is good at."

During the hearing, some congressmen questioned whether the committee should be focused on other pressing matters. That also was a sentiment expressed at spring training, which began in Florida and Arizona on the same day as the hearing.

"It's all hearsay. Everybody is all pointing fingers," San Francisco Giants reliever Steve Kline said of Clemens. "I pity the guy. Half the guys admitted it and they're not getting persecuted. It's just bad for baseball.

"Who cares about what happened in 1987? It's over. Who cares about Congress? We've got gasoline prices that are off the charts and they're worried about steroids. Maybe this gets people's minds off the war. Everybody's got skeletons in their closet. If you did it, admit it. If he didn't do it, I see why he's fighting his (tail) off," he said.

Clemens will continue to do just that, through a defamation lawsuit he has filed against McNamee. For now, though, he is taking a recess from the making his case before the court of public opinion.

"He's done every single thing that people howling at him say he would do if he were innocent," Hardin said. "And now he's through. Roger has done everything he can to address these concerns now, and he's going to try to resume his normal life."

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