A Real Pain In The Butt

Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Thanks to today's extraordinary hearing on Capitol Hill, Americans now know more about Roger Clemens' butt than they ever wanted to know. The Congressional hearing into Clemens' alleged steroid and Human Growth Hormone use fairly quickly morphed into a primer on how buttocks could react when injected with certain kinds of drugs. If there has been a more surreal hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I am not aware of it.

What did we learn? That Brian McNamee, Clemens' former trainer, is sorry for lying before, but swears he isn't lying now. That McNamee injected Clemens' wife, Debbie, with HGH in the bedroom of Clemens' house without Clemens being there to supervise the procedure. That McNamee's recollections are not always perfect. That Clemens' BFF Andy Petitte, the Yankees pitcher, seems to be making it through this scandal with his reputation for candor and honesty intact. Also that, in the end, all Clemens can say is: I'm right and the rest of them are wrong.

Clemens may not have ruined his cause Wednesday, but the hearing clearly did not help his case. And I think Clemens is beginning to appreciate the height of the mountain he will have to climb if he ever wants to regain his reputation and guarantee his liberty. Gone from the Rocket's persona on Capitol Hill was the bluster and anger and defiance that had marked his previous public appearances. He was subdued and somber – and he raised his voice only during his opening statement. He repeatedly refused to lash out at his accusers.

The Zen moment of the day came early when Clemens told the Committee that Petitte had "misheard" and "misremembered" Clemens talking about his own steroid use. It is Petitte's new testimony – directly linking Clemens to an acknowledgement of the use of performance-enhancing drugs – that is probably the most likely to generate a perjury charge against Clemens. And his defense – that the government's star witness "mis-remembers" – is not likely to gain a lot of traction before a judge or jury should we ever get to the unhappy prospect of a Clemens' perjury trial.

You can see where Clemens' trackers are going. McNamee fingered Petitte and turned out to be right. McNamee fingered former Yankees' player Chuck Knoblauch and turned out to be right. He is fingering Clemens, too, so there is little reason to think he isn't right about that too, despite Clemens' denials.

Is McNamee a perfect government witness? No, of course not. No stool pigeon ever is.

Is he good enough? We'll see if we ever get to trial and he is subjected to the sort of cross-examination for which defense attorneys are famous.

But we aren't there yet. Over and over again the legislators told the witnesses that they wanted to develop facts and not necessarily reach any legal conclusions. And then those same pols took advantage of their few minutes of bully pulpitdom to render judgments – for and against Clemens, for and against McNamee. This is not a court of law, the politicians said over and over again, but we are going to play it hard anyway to score points in the court of public opinion.

Clemens has his liberty and reputation on the line; his questioners Wednesday have their poll numbers to worry about. Guess who wins when that dynamic is in play? The guys with the gavel, of course.

Who had the worst day? Not McNamee. Not Clemens. My vote goes to Charles Scheeler, literally the man in the middle during the hearing. Scheeler helped author the Mitchell Report on baseball's use of performance-enhancing drugs – the document that has brought us all to this unhappy place. He had to sit between the squirming McNamee and the stout Clemens. And when he, Scheeler, finally got the chance to speak – after hours of being a formal buffer – he was promptly cut off by one committee member, who lectured Scheeler about filibustering with his answers.