ONE COULD no doubt find people who believe Roger Clemens did not take steroids or human growth hormone, but is there anyone out there who believes that going into this week's hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he had responded brilliantly—or even adequately—to the charges brought by his former trainer Brian McNamee? The YouTube clip and the 60 Minutes interview, the infamous press conference at which he and his lawyer Rusty Hardin dramatically presented a recorded phone conversation with McNamee that proved maddeningly inconclusive, the statistical analysis of his pitching career that landed with a thud, the tour of congressional offices so he could meet with the politicians who would be posing Wednesday's questions—none of this helped, and much of it hurt, his cause, and to a degree that has yet to be calculated.
For Clemens didn't just string together a series of awkward moments for sports fans to observe and deconstruct; by attacking the credibility of McNamee, and the investigative methods that flushed him out, he impugned the tactics and thus the character of a certain IRS criminal investigator named Jeff Novitzky. By Sunday, Hardin was telling The New York Times that Novitzky was "brazen" for planning to attend Wednesday's hearings and saying, "If he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch." Hardin told SI that Novitzky "is on a mission from God, and I cannot see how whether Roger Clemens did or did not use steroids has anything to do with the IRS." Not a smart thing to do.
Novitzky—a lanky 6'7" Californian who doesn't give interviews—is the most renowned steroid cop in the land. He helped break the BALCO case in 2003, and because of his efforts Barry Bonds has been indicted for perjury and Marion Jones is headed to prison. Novitzky, as an IRS agent, usually starts out looking into the money-laundering aspects of illicit drug operations, then follows the trail wherever it leads. He found McNamee by busting former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski in 2005. Radomski, informed that he was facing 25 years in prison, told Novitzky (and later baseball's Mitchell investigation) that he had sold drugs to dozens of ballplayers—and to McNamee. The latter, after being told he would avoid prosecution by telling the truth, said he had injected performance-enhancers into Clemens and Andy Pettitte. (According to reports in the New York Daily News last week, McNamee also told congressional staffers that he had injected Clemens's wife, Debbie, before a 2003 SI Swimsuit Issue photo shoot.) Clemens and Hardin say all of this is nonsense and that McNamee was pressured by the agent to tell lies.
Whether Novitzky is angry at Clemens and Hardin for disparaging his motives and techniques is not known—but even if the investigator is peeved, that is not their biggest worry. More to the point is that Novitzky seems to believe that Clemens used illegal drugs between 1998 and 2001, when he pitched for the Blue Jays and the Yankees, just as McNamee has said. It is well known that Novitzky can be relentless. A former Justice Department official notes that the BALCO case was "agent-driven," with Novitzky doggedly gathering evidence, then trying to persuade prosecutors to bring indictments.
Novitzky hasn't slowed down. Weeks before Hardin had publicly lashed out at him, questioning to SI why Novitzky had told "a felon we won't prosecute you for felonies if you give us information that can only be used to destroy someone's reputation," the agent was playing what could be a key role in a case against Clemens. On Jan. 10, in a private meeting at a Manhattan law office, McNamee, finally seeming to give up on the idea of being Clemens's buddy, produced a cache of used syringes and gauze supposedly tainted with the residue of steroids and Clemens's blood. The needles, as well as the battered beer can in which they were stored, are now being tested. Any resulting evidence could conceivably be used against Clemens if the House Oversight committee recommends the case to the Justice Department for further investigation.
Novitzky, it's true, has been accused of being overzealous. According to a defamation lawsuit filed by Clemens, McNamee complained about the tough techniques of Novitzky and assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Parrella to two private detectives hired by the pitcher. McNamee, who was secretly taped during the December meeting, said he implicated Clemens only after being threatened with jail time. And BALCO founder Victor Conte once asked a judge to throw out his indictment, complaining that after a 2003 interrogation, Novitzky falsely reported that Conte had named athletes to whom he gave banned drugs. "Novitzky lies, and big time," Conte wrote in an e-mail to the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. But one of McNamee's lawyers, Richard Emery, tells SI, "Novitzky and Parrella acted completely properly and appropriately with a witness they knew they had evidence on.... There was no unreasonable pressure and Brian realizes that." Conte, meanwhile, later withdrew the motion and pleaded guilty. The fact remains that some of the loudest complaints about Novitzky have come from drug dealers and users. In attacking Novitzky, Clemens's legal team is, at the very least, keeping bad company.
Lance Williams is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and a co-author of Game of Shadows.
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