It’s the cover-up, the adage goes, not the crime. In that regard, baseball’s Roger Clemens, the steroid denier, seems to have set himself up for his Nixon moment. The circus surrounding his congressional hearing last week, to some legal observers, was simply the capper on what’s been a truly bizarre legal effort.
“No one can really explain the strategy followed here,” says Ron Rosenbaum, a local attorney and former talk-radio host on KSTP-AM, a station that still features him all too occasionally. “It strikes me as insane.”
To backtrack a bit, Clemens’ image spin began almost immediately following the December release of the Mitchell Report (PDF), a former U.S. senator’s 20-month investigation into steroid and HGH use in Major League Baseball. He released a video on the Internet declaring his innocence, got worked up with Mike Wallace in a “60 Minutes” interview, released a secretly taped phone conversation between accuser and former trainer Brian McNamee and him, and then held a press conference wherein he stormed off.
Forget about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs — it looks as though he might be under the influence of something else.
“Clemens’ ego is so huge that nobody could tell him what was right,” Rosenbaum posits, “or he’s getting bad legal advice.”
Whatever the case, his efforts hardly seems to be working, since most people paying attention think Clemens doth protest too much. But more pressingly, it’s worth noting that the investigation that will finally land Barry Bonds in court hinges on not whether he used steroids, but — in his Watergate moment — whether he lied about knowingly doing so.
So, the potential perjury issue is out there. Clemens did, after all, say initially that he would have talked to Sen. George Mitchell had he known his agent had been contacted by the senator, then later claimed he turned down the opportunity.
“I’m not convinced that there’s a good perjury case yet,” Rosenbaum explains. “The falsehood has to be material.”
‘Stunned at how stupid he was’
But if there’s a lack of evidence on whether Clemens used ‘roids or HGH — and Rosenbaum notes, “what’s the motivation for McNamee” to lie? — there’s certainly no lack of proof of general knuckle-headedness by the pitcher and his attorney, Rusty Hardin.
“I’m stunned at how stupid he was,” Rosenbaum says, noting that Clemens is “not capable of deep thoughts.”
And Rosenbaum doesn’t have much good to say about Hardin either.
“There’s a difference of opinion in this town, but from the very beginning I thought this was a textbook case of how to not handle a legal situation like this,” Rosenbaum says of his fellow lawyer, adding with incredulity that Hardin would allow Clemens to submit himself to a lie detector test, which the pitcher has said he would take. “At the end of the day, all you can do is recommend advice as an attorney. You can’t tell your client directly what to do.”
What’s down the road?
Not that the appearance of Clemens before Congress has ended the whole ordeal. It took prosecutors five years to make the case against Barry Bonds, and Rosenbaum pointed out that there’s a lawsuit hanging over the Clemens matter — one that Clemens brought against McNamee to boot.
“What an idiot — it’s his lawsuit,” Rosenbaum marvels. Pretty much everything Clemens writes or says in that suit — including “a freewheeling deposition” — will be under oath. In other words, Clemens may have set his own trap.
“He’s just a buffoon, and there’s nothing juicier than a buffoon in the legal system,” Rosenbaum says, calling Roger Dodger a “ripe target.” “They’ll treat him like a piñata.”
Further complicating the Clemens matter, Rosenbaum surmises, is race. There could be an outcry of a double standard if the black player, Bonds, is nailed, but the white player, Clemens, is not.
“Under normal circumstances, I don’t think this rises to perjury,” Rosenbaum concludes, “but the fun’s just beginning.”