The Pointless Prosecution of Roger Clemens

All perjuries are not created equal.

If it were a crime to venture onto Capitol Hill to reveal yourself as a self-absorbed liar with an inability to admit mistakes, there would be tumbleweeds blowing through the vacant halls of Congress. Fortunately for members of the legislative branch, that is not a crime. Unless your name is Roger Clemens.

The eccentric baseball legend is not one to let people disparage him without a forceful response, any more than he was one to let batters crowd the plate without retaliation. A couple of years ago, after being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, he voluntarily appeared before a House committee to heap scorn on the charge.

His denial was not very convincing, since other witnesses—notably longtime teammate Andy Pettitte—had given statements contradicting him. He was repeatedly reminded by skeptical interrogators that he was under oath. Democratic Chairman Henry Waxman and ranking Republican Tom Davis joined together afterward to advise the Justice Department that "significant questions have been raised about Mr. Clemens' truthfulness."

But never mind if anyone believed him, or if his alleged dissembling made any difference on anything. Federal prosecutors got him indicted for perjury, and he faces trial on charges that carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison.

It's possible to imagine less worthy uses of prosecutorial resources, but not many. Indictments for perjury unaccompanied by other criminal charges are rare, usually employed only when a statute of limitations makes it impossible to prosecute the accused for more significant felonies.

The Rocket, for some reason, is not charged with violating federal law by possessing or using illegal substances. He is charged merely with lying to members of Congress.

Members of Congress, of course, have been known to lie to their constituents and to each other, without fear of going to prison. And it's hard to see what would be lost if Clemens' sworn denial were written off as a risible burst of hot air.

United States attorneys face a nearly endless array of mischief and mayhem. Because of limited resources, they cannot prosecute everyone who breaks the law. Yet those in charge of prosecutions for the nation's capital chose to give priority to an offender who presents no threat to public safety and whose real crime was to disrespect a powerful group of elected officials.

"It's hard for me to see the federal interest in prosecuting Clemens in this kind of case," says Ron Safer, a former assistant U.S. attorney. "Cases that are worthy of prosecution are turned down every day because the federal interest is insufficient."

Perjuries are not all created equal. Rod Blagojevich and Lewis "Scooter" Libby were both convicted of lying to federal agents, but they did so in order to impede criminal investigations into other suspected wrongdoing. Another baseball star, Barry Bonds, was indicted for perjury because he supposedly lied to a grand jury probing illegal drug trafficking—testimony that could have allowed criminals to go free.

Various government officials prosecuted for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal were trying to suppress the truth and block congressional oversight on a matter of grave public concern. In instances like these, prosecution of perjury serves as a deterrent to conduct that interferes with vital government functions.

Clemens' supposed deceit, by contrast, came in a bit of congressional theater. The hearings were not necessary to formulate legislation—and, in fact, no legislation came out of the process. The point was to grab the spotlight and convey the impression of action to gullible constituents. Congress was holding hearings just for the fun of holding hearings.

Reginald Brown, an associate White House general counsel under President George W. Bush, told The New York Times that the committee members were pushing the boundaries of their legitimate authority: "They did this to figure out whether Clemens or his trainer were telling the truth, and that is arguably not a legislative function. It's not Congress' job to hold perjury trials."

All this might be easier to see if the case involved a more sympathetic character than Clemens, whose plight is largely the result of his own gargantuan hubris. But a meaningless act of perjury should not become a criminal case merely because it was allegedly committed by a prize jerk.

In this case, prosecutors seem to be letting their pride and indignation lure them into a fight they would have been better off declining. Sort of like Roger Clemens.

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  • Suki||

    Good morning reason.

  • anarch||

    I submit that Sukibot is a shill. ;-)

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    America was Chevy, baseball, and apple pie.

    The Government now owns Chevy, they're currently getting into baseball, and God help apple pie.

  • Bloomberg||

    Apple pie? Not in my town, you fat fuck!

  • Ron||

    Since many localities no longer allow transfats in food I would say the government is already into apple pie.

  • Surly Chef||

    Pie dough tastes better when made with lard anyways, but shortening, where the trans-fat would come from, is easier to work with. They want pie to be cost prohibitive to eat for us plebs.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    ClemOns on the main page, ClemEns here and in the article. Odd.

  • mr simple||

    I wonder how many people on the committee were always picked last for the team and see this as their chance to stick it to the jock.

  • The Waxman||

    Watch your back, mister.

  • ||

    You look like the Phantom of The Opera.

  • Amakudari||

    Somewhere around half my friends are sports fanatics who think all sorts of terrible things should befall athletes who dope, but all of them consider the whole Congressional steroids inquiry is stupid on stilts.

    Honestly, who thinks this is real important business? Congress, because they were lied to (by a non-politician)?

  • ||

    +5

  • ||

    Fortunately for members of the legislative branch, that is not a crime. Unless your name is Roger Clemens.

    Roger Clemens is a member of the legislative branch?

  • Kant feel Pietzsche||

    Try reading the (compound) sentence again. Reading is "Fun-damental".

  • MNG||

    I cannot believe the available penalties for his "crime." Up to 30 years, WTF!?!?

  • Bill Clinton||

    Heh, heh, heh... I could tell you a thing or two about being tried for meaningless perjury.

  • Jen||

    And now, on to more important things. For example, is Matt Welch actually wearing an orange leopard-print shirt and tie in the Reason Cruise ad?

  • sarcasmic||

    Clemens if facing 30 years for breaking an oath to tell the truth to a bunch of liars who routinely break their oath of office.

    That makes sense.

  • ||

    Yeah, why should it be illegal to lie to congress? They lie to us all the time with impunity. "We had to invade Iraq because of the WMD." "We will provide more health care coverage to more sick people and it will cost less." "The stimulus is working."

  • sarcasmic||

    Better yet members of Congress should face 30yrs for violating their oath of office.

  • ||

    they all have little nameplates with "honorable" in front of them...cause nameplates don't lie.

    my nameplate says ginormous penis...

    Lady, "you lied!!!"
    Me "It all depends on the definition of "ginormous" - amoung mice, I am hung like a rat."

  • ||

    At some point I wonder if this isn't a petty political witch hunt. Raphael Palmero lied to Congress to. And he, unlike Clemmons actually tested positive for steroids. Yet, no one ever charged him. But he is not a friend of GWB's either. Seriously, why the focus on Clemmons? Bonds I can understand because he lied to a grand jury investigating a steroid dealer. I can at least see the government interest there, although not much of one. The government wants to deter future users from lying to protect their dealers. But in the Clemmons case they don't even have that.

  • Google is your friend||

    Raphael Palmero lied to Congress

    Rafael Palmeiro.

    And he, unlike Clemmons

    Clemens.

  • ||

    fuck them. If you want to be a steroid using baseball player and worried about people spelling your name right, get a name people can spell.

  • Doug Mientkiewicz||

    Yeah, something like mine.

  • sarcasmic||

    Firefox's built in spell checker makes even dubbas like me look wicked smaht!

    Ayuh!

  • ||

    or better yet a name plate that says The Honorable_____.

  • ||

    And fuck you for caring how the names were spelled. You know who I am talking about.

  • ♥♥♥||

    You know who I am talking about

    You know about whom I am talking.

  • ||

    You're in for it now!

  • ||

    Because spelling, syntax, grammer, etc., don't matter.
    When you're an illiterate hillbilly retard.

  • ||

    That is just too god damn funny...."grammer"????

  • ||

    ....and what the fuck is an Emporer???

  • ||

    Farging Iceholes

    Moroney shows us the only way to testify to congress.

  • Mo||

    Let me start by saying that I think this whole charade is a pointless waste of time and resources*. However, I would have more sympathy for Clemens if they didn't give him an out. They told him beforehand that he didn't have to testify or say anything. Waxman didn't want him to testify. If Congress gives you an opportunity to not testify under oath to them, take it you moron!

    * Though, on the plus side, it distracts them from messing up meaningful things.

  • SFC B||

    "* Though, on the plus side, it distracts them from messing up meaningful things."

    Given everything that's happened since Congress started investigating baseball's steroid use, I'd have to say this is incorrect.

  • ||

    Agree.
    As someone who represents people internally in the gubermint, there is nothing harder than to get people to STFU. I can understand the inclination to want to pubically vindicate yourself, but always, ALWAYS claim up before putting yourself in a situation where you can be charged with perjury.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The three best words to use when dealing someone in law enforcement or the judicial system are, "I don't recall."

  • get down on the ground now!||

    I've always suspected the police use illegal steroids at a much higher rate than professional athletes.

  • -||

    They use steroid-grade doughnuts.

  • sarcasmic||

    You'll never know because they don't have to take tests.

  • ||

    Is that a donut I smell on your breath?

  • ||

    I'm not sure about that. I've seen a few hyper-muscled cops who look roided-out, but most of the big ones are just plain fat. They get that way from sitting in a car all day and frequenting Krispy Kreme, not from squats and bench presses. The fat ones look more muscular that they really are because their Kevlar vests firm up all the adipose tissue. And because they have like 30 lbs of gear on their bat-belts, they have to walk with their arms held away from their sides.

  • And another thing||

    Why is it all the cops have that peckerwood shaved head look these days?

  • ||

    So the perp can't pull the cop's hair in a scrap.

  • name withheld||

    My wife's ex just joined the police force.
    He's been juicing for years. She left him because she feared for her life.
    Now he's a cop.

    There's one town I will never ever drive through again.

    Oh, and he's got a peckerwood shaved haircut because he's a peckerwood.

  • In Time Of War||

    I have a personal policy to never vote for any politician who has been involved in a baseball investigation. It's the most arrogant and ridiculous thing congress can do.

  • ||

    It would make more sense to just let humans decide what can be injected into their own bodies.

  • ||

    Yes, but what is an "Emporer"?

  • ||

    Seems to me that this is strictly a contest to see who has the biggest *manhood* on the block. There is little merit in persecuting the Rocket, even if he is one of the most unlikeable, annoying athletes of all time. And, I'm a Yankees fan, and I still think he is an ass. Always did, for the record.

  • DDavis||

    After a cursory scan, looks like I'm the only one who thinks lying under oath to congress should carry a penalty.

  • Surly Chef||

    If this were the judicial branch charging him with perjury in the prosecution of him for breaking the law I might agree with you, however much I disagree with the illegality of AAS. This however is not a case of the legislative branch holding hearing to investigate wrongdoing in another branch of government, or into research for the formulation of law, this is the legislative branch pulling a private citizen in front of it to do a job meant for the judicial branch to simply to raise approval ratings. All this when considering their may have not been enough evidence against him to actually bring him to trial legally.

    The stance most of us are taking is that because the legislative branch does not have the authority to prosecute most legal cases, everything Clemens said to congress is moot, like when LEOs use illegal search and seizure to obtain damning evidence.

  • ||

    Clemens eccentric? I don't think so. He's just an asshole.

    That being said, Congress going after him is a fucking joke. Hypocrisy at it highest and most absurd point.

    Screw politicians who stick their noses where it don't really belong to begin with.

    In a way, I'm happy Clemens is dicking these dinks around. Dorks battling dinks.

  • jb||

    The whole Clemens/Bond issue is a steaming load from the south end of the proverbial northbound horse.

    Liberty, my body is mine, all of that and more . . .

    This is about an ex-pol in Mitchell who was missing the limelight, and a bunch of goofs who pretend to represent us; waste the money we work for; and who think they are dignifying their esteemed office by finding prevarications everywhere but in the sound of their own voices, where prevarication occurs most often.

    On the actual situation . . . Pettite had a ton to lose if he had not come up with something. After his quick gig with his hometown team, he didn't want anything screwing his chances in Noo Yawk. He played the Jason Giambi gambit. McNamee is Henry Hill personified.

    So one that admitted using, and the other already toast for distribution, seem to be the perfect witnesses for the liars in Congress to tar and feather a man and a fabulous career, right?

    This has been fed by the Keith Olbermann persona that is the editorial mindset of ESPN, the liars and thieves on Capitol Hill, and a likewise truth-challenged main-stream media that sees Clemens as a threat and Urkel doing just fine as CoC . . .

    Clemens has a bulldog in Rusty. I wish them both the best, and a "oh, shyte!" from Congress admitting none of this is their job anyway.

  • wood dash kits||

    Since in many places no longer allow transfats in the food, I would say that the government has already made apple pie.

  • Number 2||

    I fear we are missing the larger point. There is no such thing as free-floating "perjury." The false statement must be material, relevant, and adversely affect an ongoing proceding. For example, Clinton's lie about Monica Lewinsky was material and relevant to Paula Jones' ability to gather evidence for her sexual harasssment lawsuit.

    But here - Congress was not investigating or considering legislation. Nor is it Congress' role to engage in law enforcement. Thus, lie or not, if is not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the falsehood did not impede an actual Congressional function, Clemens is not guilty of perjury.

  • Number 2||

    Sorry ... I meant, "that the falsehood did actually impede..." Bad proofreading.

  • ||

    Welfare for federal criminal prosecution lawyers (and criminal defense lawyers)

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