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The stunt made international headlines, triggering outrage at Bonds and other athletes in sports pages and on talk shows around the country. Novitzky's heavy-breathing affidavits were released and chewed over.
Within six weeks (and likely sooner), federal officials deployed their favorite tactic for squeezing testimony out of unwilling, high-profile witnesses—they convened a grand jury. As the Cato Institute's Timothy Lynch, Stephen Johnson and Thomas Dillard showed in a 2003 paper (PDF), grand juries have been transformed from safeguards against overzealous prosecutors, into "inquisitorial bulldozers that run roughshod over the constitutional rights of citizens."
Dozens of star athletes, including Bonds, were brought in to testify. In February 2004, three weeks after Bush's steroid-injected State of the Union address, Attorney General John Ashcroft himself announced the indictments of four dealers—Conte, Bonds' friend Anderson, and two others—on 42 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, and distribution of anabolic steroids. No athletes were named.
"Nothing does more to diminish our potential—both as individuals and as a nation—than illegal drug abuse," the hyperbolic Attorney General said. "The tragedy of so-called performance-enhancing drugs is that they foster the lie that excellence can be bought rather than earned and that physical potential is an asset to be exploited rather than a gift to be nurtured. Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them, but the integrity of the sports they play. These drugs are bad for sports, bad for the players and bad for the young people who look to athletes as role models."
If the athletes thought their participation in the process had ended with their grand jury testimony (which by law is supposed to remain secret), then they gravely misjudged the up-front intentions of Ashcroft and Bush. Sure, the drugs are illegal—without a prescription or "adequate directions regarding use," that is—but more importantly to this administration they "send the wrong message" to the children. And no nickel-and-dime prosecution of four steroid distributors (including one guy, Greg Anderson, of whom Conte says "the amount of performance-enhancing drugs the feds found at [his] house was minuscule") will produce anything like Bush's desired effect of "send[ing] the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now."
That's where the grand jury leaks come in. The San Francisco Chronicle, which has been dominating coverage of the BALCO investigation, has done so based on leak after leak from the supposedly sealed grand jury proceedings. Most of the loose lips have concerned names of individual star athletes; none (at least to my knowledge) have been accompanied by any hint from the Chronicle about which side was providing the information, and why.
"There have been leaks about track star Marion Jones and sprinter Tim Montgomery," Newsday reported Sunday. "There have been leaks upon leaks about Bonds and other baseball stars. Leaks about minor-leaguers. Leaks about football players. Leaks about hammer throwers. In August, several leaks ago, defense lawyers counted 29 different news accounts based on confidential information about the investigation."
By far the two biggest player-related leaks came last week, when the Chronicle printed the blockbuster news that 2000 American League MVP Jason Giambi, who has long publicly denied using steroids, actually testified to the contrary, admitting that he knowingly took the stuff from 2001-2003. Before this sport-shaking revelation could even be digested, the Chron released some of the testimony from none other than Barry Bonds.
And what did it show? That "Bonds testified that he had received and used clear and cream substances from his personal strength trainer, Greg Anderson, during the 2003 baseball season but was told they were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis." The "clear" and "cream" resembled specific BALCO-supplied steroids, investigators think; Bonds denied ever knowingly using banned substances.
That's it. No charge of illegal possession or use or conspiracy, no hint (so far) of perjury, no indication that he ever broke any Major League Baseball rules. Still, it was enough for the nation's editorial boards to wag their disapproving fingers, and for Congress to resume its headline-chasing song-and-dance.
The leaks could not possibly have come at a more fortuitous time for baseball owners and their enablers in government. The Thursday and Friday bombshells came just in time for this week's annual meetings of Major League Baseball general managers, and of the executive board of the Player's Union, both of which promised to be thick with reporters. What extraordinary luck!
It also came just in time for programmers of weekend TV chat shows to locate some representative outrage from Capitol Hill. They didn't have to look hard.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), appearing on "Fox News Sunday," called baseball's current steroid policy a "joke," threatened to introduce drug-testing legislation as early as January, and reported that President Bush was thrilled by the prospect. "There's not a doubt in my mind. He'd love to," McCain said. "The president is very concerned." Democratic Sen. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) concurred, as did baseball's contemptible commissioner, Bud Selig.
"If we cannot resolve this issue privately, I gladly will accept whatever help is offered by Sen. McCain to achieve our ultimate goal," Selig said in a statement. "While I would prefer to resolve this problem directly with the Players Association and jointly implement a much stronger drug-testing policy in Major League Baseball, one modeled after our program in the minor leagues, I understand the need for swift and resolute action."
Selig, it might be recalled, has previously lied to Congress about baseball's supposed financial woes, and has spent his term helping owners soak taxpayers for more than $5 billion in baseball welfare.