WASHINGTON -- Two months after being accused of using steroids, Roger Clemens faces off against his accuser at a hearing today with his reputation at stake and law enforcement authorities ready to pounce if either is found to be lying.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform could recommend sometime after today's highly anticipated hearing that the Justice Department open a perjury investigation focused on Clemens or trainer Brian McNamee. McNamee says he injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner with steroids and human growth hormone, a charge Clemens has vehemently denied.
Clemens' problems could get worse because New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said in a sworn affidavit to Congress that his former teammate told him nearly 10 years ago that he used human growth hormone, the Associated Press was told yesterday.
Even if the committee doesn't make a recommendation, the Justice Department could act on its own. "We don't need to refer anything even if it's apparent someone's lying," a committee staff member said yesterday.
"Justice is watching and can make its own decisions," said the staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hearing has not yet been held.
The FBI opened a preliminary investigation last month into whether former Orioles All-Star Miguel Tejada, now with the Houston Astros, lied in 2005 when he denied ever using steroids or knowing about other players who took the drugs.
The Tejada investigation is "still ongoing," Justice Department spokesman Paul Bresson said. He declined to comment on whether the department was monitoring Clemens and McNamee.
"As a general rule, we don't need a referral from the Hill to initiate an investigation, although that's often how it works," Bresson said.
Clemens and McNamee will testify in the same high-ceilinged, wood-paneled room in which former Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro famously wagged his finger in March 2005 and said he had never used steroids. He was suspended for 10 days after testing positive for a steroid in May of that year.
One of the other players who testified at that 2005 hearing, former slugger and admitted steroid user Jose Canseco, backed Clemens in a sworn affidavit given to the committee, saying he has never seen Clemens "use, possess or ask for steroids or human growth hormone," the Associated Press reported.
Committee staff members have more advance information about today's witnesses than they did about Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and the other current and former players who testified in 2005.
That's because the committee, employing a seldom-used legislative tool, summoned Clemens and McNamee for private question-and-answer sessions. Such advance interviews are conducted in special investigations. Recently, a House committee received approval to privately question officials about nine deaths at a Utah mine. Allowing advance questioning, that committee wrote in a report, enables the later hearing "to be more focused and illuminating."
The depositions mean the committee will already be familiar with specific details of Clemens' and McNamee's accounts heading into the hearing. But Clemens won't know what McNamee told the panel and vice-versa.
"I can tell you that I know for a fact that a lot of research has been done on this [hearing]," committee member Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday. "This is a very, very, very serious matter. We've got the lives of some folks and their welfare involved here."
He said the panel wouldn't hesitate to recommend a perjury probe if it becomes evident Clemens or McNamee were lying. "I would think it would not take a very long time," Cummings said.
McNamee told investigators for former Sen. George Mitchell last year that he repeatedly injected Clemens with steroids and hGH between 1998 and 2001.
Last week, McNamee's attorneys showed the committee photos of vials, gauze and a needle they allege was used to inject Clemens with steroids.
Clemens' attorneys dismissed the material in the photos as "fabricated waste stuff" and called the trainer "a sad, tragic, obsessed man."
Last month, Mitchell told the committee he had faith in McNamee's credibility.
A Mitchell investigator, Baltimore attorney Charles Scheeler, is also scheduled to testify today.
Yesterday, committee members said at a hearing that they were alarmed by Mitchell's conclusion that the use of hGH appeared to be on the rise in major league baseball.
"Some athletes believe that if they use hGH, it's going to increase their performance and they won't get caught," said committee chairman Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat.firstname.lastname@example.org