Rocket's Red Glare

Even before baseball great Roger Clemens raises his right hand and swears to tell the truth, it’s clear that his appearance before Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be a spectacle for the cameras that have crowded into the hearing room. What isn’t clear is that it will turn into a partisan slugfest.

After all, the long-awaited hearing seems to offer a high-profile opportunity for members of Congress to show that they can work together in a bipartisan way to accomplish something — even if that something is only a made-for-TV interrogation into whether trainer Brian McNamee did or did not shoot steroids and human growth hormones into Clemens’ naked backside.

It’s not to be.

From beginning to end, with a few exceptions, Democrats hammer away at Clemens for the numerous contradictions in his story while Republicans sing Clemens’ praises and bang away at McNamee, his accuser.

Waxman hits first, revealing in his opening statement that New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte has told the committee that Clemens admitted to him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used HGH — and then denied in 2005 that he had done so. In the 2005 conversation, Pettitte said, Clemens claimed that he had previously told Pettitte that his wife was the one who had used HGH.

The catch: Clemens and McNamee agree that McNamee injected Clemens’ wife with HGH, but both say he did so in 2003 — several years after Pettitte says that Clemens told him he had used HGH.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) grills Clemens on the contradiction, but Clemens sticks to his claim that Pettitte is just “misremembering” the earlier conversation. Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) pile on, hitting Clemens for contradictions in public statements he has made about whether he was asked to speak to former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) during the course of Mitchell’s investigation into the use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the committee, focuses his gotcha game on McNamee instead, calling attention to discrepancies in the number of times that McNamee has said he injected his ballplayer clients. “Why does the number keep going up?” Davis asks.

McNamee says he remembered more instances over time. Davis moves on to a surreptitiously tape-recorded conversation between Clemens and McNamee in which Clemens apparently told McNamee: “I just need you to come out and tell the truth.” Davis asks McNamee: “Why didn’t you just come out and say, ‘Roger, I have told the truth’?”

“In my jargon, I did say that,” McNamee says. “I said, ‘It is what it is,’ meaning I did tell the truth.”

The Democrats counter with Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), who goes back at Clemens. The Rocket said in his own committee deposition that he had never spoken with McNamee about HGH. Later in that same deposition, when asked about specific conversations he had with McNamee about HGH, he conceded that he had, in fact, had those talks. Tierney jabs: “We know that some of the things you told us in great earnestness are not true.”

Clemens filibusters. Tierney interrupts. “That’s all helpful, Mr. Clemens, but I’m reading to you from the transcript,” Tierney says. Clemens’ lawyer leans forward to consult with his client. When Clemens begins to speak again, his defense is a definitional argument over what he meant by saying that he had never spoken with McNamee about HGH.

There’s a Clintonian echo in the room, and Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Ga.) hears it. He asks the trainer about his “It is what it is” statement and, raising his eyebrows, says it “depends on what ‘is’ means, I guess.” Westmoreland says he hearing is a “show trial.” He dismisses the evidence McNamee has given investigators — syringes and gauze pads he says contain traces of drugs and Clemens’ DNA — as “so-called evidence of syringes and gauzes ... supposedly” used on Clemens.

It’s Monica’s blue dress all over, and it’s enough to creep out Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), a leader in the Lewinsky charge. “Is this the kind of employee you are, keeping gauze pads and needles?” he asks McNamee. “Gee whiz, are you kidding me?”

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) isn’t buying it either. “There’s all sorts of chain-of-evidence issues,” he says. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) is equally unimpressed, suggesting that McNamee’s gauze pad could contain nothing more than the B12 vitamin Clemens has admitted receiving from his trainer.

“Absolutely,” says Clemens.

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) pushes back with questions about a doctor’s report suggesting that an abscess on his much-discussed rear end was caused by a steroid injection. Davis responds by chastising Lynch, calling the line of questioning “a new definition of lynching.”

Davis turns back to McNamee, ripping into the trainer’s credibility and complaining that “the other side seems focused on Mr. Clemens.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) goes after McNamee’s educational background, suggesting that Ph.D. stands for “piled higher and deeper.” He refers to the “numerous lies you’ve told and admitted to” and finishes with a “Shame on you.”

And so it goes. At one point, Waxman suggests that Clemens may have been trying to obstruct a congressional investigation when he talked last week with his former nanny about her memories of relevant events back in 1998. Clemens demurs. “I was trying to do y’all a favor,” he says.

Waxman thinks he has drawn a bucket of blood, and he presses his attack home. “The impression it leaves is terrible,” the chairman tells the pitcher. Clemens’ lawyers object. “This is nothing but innuendo,” attorney Lanny Breuer says, rising to his feet. “The innuendo is terrible.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) comes to the would-be Hall of Famer’s defense. She points to a giant poster of Clemens over the years, arguing that it shows he hasn’t increased in size. Cummings, on the other side, tells Clemens that nobody’s buying his story. “It’s hard to believe you, sir,” he says. “I hate to say that. You’re one of my heroes, but it’s hard to believe you.”

Clemens tries to speak, but Waxman slams the gavel, glares at the ballplayer, then turns to his accuser. “Mr. McNamee,” he says, “you’ve taken a lot of hits today. In my view, some were fair, and some were unwarranted. I want to apologize to you for some of the comments that were made.”

Waxman adjourns the hearing. Clemens walks through a crowd of photographers and reporters directly to the door leading to the GOP offices.
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