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Clemens stands tall on Capitol Hill

Thoughts on Wednesday's congressional hearing

Posted: Wednesday February 13, 2008 7:52PM; Updated: Thursday February 14, 2008 8:36AM
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Though not often praised for his eloquence, Roger Clemens' answers were mostly direct.
Though not often praised for his eloquence, Roger Clemens' answers were mostly direct.
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Though stumbling on a couple of questions and leaving several others unanswered, Roger Clemens nonetheless emerged favorably from Wednesday's hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Keep in mind, Clemens' primary goal was not to preserve or rehabilitate his baseball reputation or even to convince the legions of fans who disbelieve him -- as others have written, he may have failed miserably on those ends -- but rather to avoid perjury charges. Unless verifiable physical evidences emerges to the contrary, it seems unlikely the available evidence would lead to a conclusive finding that he committed perjury. Here's why, along with other observations:

1. Clemens responded somewhat effectively to questions about Andy Pettitte's affidavit.

Clemens and his legal team knew that he would confront very damaging sworn statements by his longtime friend and former teammate, Andy Pettitte, whom the committee described Wednesday as "honest and forthcoming." Pettitte not only confirmed Brian McNamee's accusations, but volunteered that he injected himself with HGH in 2004, a fact not included in the Mitchell Report. Most threatening to Clemens, Pettitte stated that he and Clemens discussed Clemens' use of HGH.

When pressed by Congressman Elijah Cummings about Pettitte's affidavit, Clemens responded with a plausible explanation: Pettitte misheard or misunderstood the context in which Clemens discussed HGH. Clemens confirmed that he and Pettitte spoke about HGH, but said that they did so in the context of Clemens knowing about three older men who used HGH and the health benefits they received. Clemens also assured Cummings that if he had told Pettitte about personally using HGH, then Pettitte, his close friend, would have spoken with Clemens about HGH before and after he used it. But he didn't.

From that vantage point, Clemens attempted to exonerate himself without casting any doubt on Pettitte's veracity or intentions. Indeed, Clemens assured the committee that Pettitte would remain his friend.

On the other hand, and as alluded to by Cummings in the afternoon session, Clemens' explanation may suffer from a logical flaw: if Pettitte indeed misheard Clemens and mistakenly believed that Clemens used HGH, then why wouldn't, as Clemens confidently predicted in the morning session, Pettitte speak with Clemens about HGH before and after he used the substance?

2. Clemens deserves credit for his demeanor and style.

Save for an unnecessary interruption of committee chairman Henry Waxman in his concluding statements, Clemens generally seemed calm and relaxed, while also appearing serious, as evidenced by his frequent note-taking and deferential tone. Though not often praised for his eloquence, Clemens' answers were, by and large, clear and direct. He also took the high road on several occasions, repeatedly acknowledging the need for baseball to clean up the game and praising the Mitchell Report for its portions not relating to him. He even managed to sneak in a swipe at his nemesis, former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, in response to a question about what motivates him.

Clemens' attorneys, Rusty Hardin and Lanny Breuer, also deserve credit for their client appearing effective. This was best seen in an exchange between Clemens and Waxman, who felt it was dubious that Clemens, upon advice from counsel, would meet with, and possibly coach, his former nanny before she spoke with the committee. Clemens' attorneys stood up and angrily interjected that Waxman's line of questioning was inappropriate and should be addressed to them instead. Immediately after that exchange, Clemens calmly reiterated that he thought nothing wrong occurred and that he still feels the nanny is "a sweet lady." It was almost a made-for-TV juxtaposition: Clemens seeming unfazed by the exchange, while his attorneys noticeably simmering in the background. If nothing else, then, Clemens appeared favorable in comparison to those representing him, a comparison those representing him would gladly take.

3. Everyone hates Brian McNamee.

Capped off by Congressman Dan Burton's declaration of McNamee's history of lying as "disgusting" and Congressman Christopher Shay's characterization of him as a "drug dealer," McNamee appeared almost universally disliked and disbelieved by members of the committee. Specific instances include Congressman Burton's harsh questioning, which delineated repeated instances of McNamee's untruths, and other members' belittling of McNamee's Ph.D., which he obtained from a diploma mill and later misrepresented.

The committee also exhibited intense skepticism toward McNamee's account of the now-famed taped phone conversation with Clemens. McNamee claimed that he knew he was being taped and yet never took advantage of that realization by, for instance, telling Clemens that he all he did was tell the truth. Instead, McNamee insisted that his "jargon" of the phrase "it is what it is" proved equivalent. Similarly vexing was the fact that though McNamee failed to keep records of his clients' usage of steroids and HGH, he claims to have meticulously preserved alleged physical evidence of Clemens' usage.

The most substantive attack of McNamee may have occurred when Congressman Tom Davis scrutinized McNamee's comments, under oath, that Clemens attended a barbecue at Jose Canseco's house 10 years ago. As Davis noted, other persons interviewed about the party, including the party's hosts, Canseco and his ex-wife Jessica Fisher, specifically recall Clemens not being there. In fact, Canseco -- whom committee members repeatedly cited as a source of authority -- told the committee that he distinctly remembers Clemens' absence since he was disappointed to not be able to introduce Clemens to a close friend. Though we obviously don't know whether McNamee is telling the truth, his account seemed unbelievable, perhaps justifying a closer inspection of his other Clemens-related comments.

Then again, as implied by Waxman in his concluding remarks, McNamee may be the proverbial "boy who cried wolf": in spite of his previous history of lying, his comments about Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch have been confirmed.

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