SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated legal expert Lester Munson to talk about the latest news concerning Barry Bonds and a federal grand jury.
SI.com: How surprised were you, if at all, that the federal government is pursuing a perjury charge against Bonds, and what is the likelihood of an indictment?
Lester Munson: This is not a big surprise. This has been lurking for two years. Myself and others trying to report on this thought that the government had dropped the ball on the perjury charge. I thought they would have indicted Bonds a year ago, so in my opinion, based on what I know, the likelihood of an indictment is very high. There is no question based upon the San Francisco Chronicle's reporting and based upon reporting done by myself and Sports Illustrated that Bonds lied to the grand jury. The only question is, why has the government waited this long to look into it? To me this charge is obvious and overdue.
SI.com: So is this the same grand jury that he has testified in front of, and what exactly is he facing in terms of charges brought against him?
Munson: This is a second grand jury that is determining whether a crime occurred in front of the original BALCO grand jury. There are two main things they are looking at here: the potential of perjury and obstruction of justice. The sentences are approximately the same. Both are serious federal felonies. There is also the potential for a tax charge involving his girlfriend and the money he gave her.
Perjury means you lied on a material issue, not a trivial one, but a central issue of the case. That's what makes for a perjury charge. We had that in the Chris Webber booster situation in Ann Arbor a few years ago
Obstruction of justice is a similar crime but involves tampering with evidence and or other witnesses that the government seeks to gather. That would include any conversations Bonds had had with Greg Anderson, any attempts he made to manipulate the former girlfriend on the potential for a tax charge.
SI.com: How does Bonds find himself in this predicament?
Munson: This all goes back to when Bonds appeared before the BALCO grand jury, and at the time his attorneys gave him three alternatives: 1) tell the truth, 2) take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify or 3) testify and take your chances on a perjury charge. They recommended taking the Fifth, like any lawyer would have advised, but to the amazement of all, he refused to take their advice and now faces the possibility of perjury or obstruction.
SI.com: Why has it taken so long for the second grand jury to convene?
Munson: What may have slowed the process down was the transition in the U.S. attorney general's office from John Ashcroft to Alberto Gonzalez. Ashcroft was personally involved with this case from the start, which was very unusual. He announced the original indictment, which normally should have been done by the local U.S. attorney in San Francisco. When Ashcroft left, a lot of the energy in the investigation left with him and it took Gonzalez a period of time to get up to speed. That's why now, finally, the second grand jury begins.