As the Roger Clemens trial plods along, many are asking, in one form or another:
It's a question that has been repeatedly asked since Clemens testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Feb. 13, 2008 and defiantly claimed that he had never used illegal steroids or Human Growth Hormone. The committee's doubts about Clemens' truthfulness led to an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, a nearly 16-month grand jury proceeding, perjury charges, a mistrial last summer and, finally, a new trial. All told, millions of tax dollars have been spent by the federal government investigating and prosecuting Clemens.
The lingering belief that the Congressional hearings and subsequent developments were all a foolish use of government time and money has not gone away. Prospective jurors even admitted to U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton that they felt the Congressional hearings were wasteful. One potential juror went so far to describe it as "a little bit ridiculous" that Congress would investigate Clemens instead of numerous matters more crucial to the nation. As expected, attorneys for Clemens have tried to capitalize on this sentiment in their defense. They hope to persuade jurors to nullify the government's case on grounds that it never should have been brought to trial.
While there are legitimate criticisms of the investigation and prosecution of Clemens, myths and falsehoods about the infamous Congressional hearing in 2008 have emerged and are worthy of correction. You may even come to believe Congress was right, or at least justified, in calling Clemens to testify.
Sources close to the committee's investigation describe Clemens as an afterthought who used his celebrity status and political connections to claim relevance. He and his former trainer/chief accuser, Brian McNamee, only became subjects of the committee's interest in HGH after Clemens requested a hearing to challenge accusations levied against him in the Mitchell Report. In a debatable decision, the committee, which had already held a hearing on the Mitchell Report on January 15, 2008 and thus had a continued interest in the Report's integrity, acquiesced to Clemens' demand. The committee scheduled a hearing for Feb. 13 and although only one of 89 players implicated by the Report would testify, curiously titled it, "The Mitchell Report: The Illegal Use of Steroids in Major League Baseball." The hearing turned into a much-publicized and much-ridiculed showdown between Clemens and McNamee.
While somewhat defensible given the committee's previous hearing on the Mitchell Report, the committee's willingness to grant Clemens his own forum smacks of preferential treatment. In Schlifstein's view, the Feb. 13 hearing "was a side show and circus" and completely unwarranted. "It's not like tons of players were challenging being named in the Mitchell Report," Schlifstein says. "It was one guy." Even worse, the Feb. 13 hearing may have distracted from, and undermined the credibility of, the Feb. 12 hearing. "At the time, there was a lot of interest in HGH and the mystery surrounding its benefits and drawbacks," Schlifstein says. "It was a discussion worth having, until everything was sidetracked by Clemens."
According to people involved in the February 2008 hearings, no outside staff or attorneys were hired and most of the work entailed receiving and distributing statements from health experts. Clemens and Andy Pettitte were also interviewed, under oath, by staff members and their statements were recorded and transcribed. The staff did not incur any travel expenses in conducting the interviews. Clemens also visited several members of Congress in their offices for short conversations.
Also, while Congress did not pass legislation directly related to the hearing, it did pass the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, which was signed by President Bush in October 2008 The Act increased penalties for the sale of anabolic steroids and placed greater restrictions on patients obtaining doctors' prescriptions for related substances, including HGH.
Americans also care about HGH and understanding, as Schlifstein says, its potential for good and harm. "Some celebrities, like Sylvester Stallone, have praised HGH as a super drug, but it's worth having a conversation on what it actually does and doesn't do," Schlifstein said. Whether HGH's association to Clemens' infamous testimony prevents such a conversation remains to be seen.