TOPICS > Politics

Roger Clemens Acquitted, but ‘Legal Cloud’ Lingers

June 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
A federal jury in Washington, found professional baseball pitcher Roger Clemens not guilty of perjury charges Monday. Ray Suarez speaks with Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News about the turning points of the 10-week trial and the investigation that spanned more than five years.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Next, an acquittal for Roger Clemens.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: The former baseball pitching great had been accused of lying to Congress about using steroids. But this afternoon, a federal jury in Washington, D.C., found him not guilty of all charges. It followed a 10-week trial and a five-year investigation.

Later, outside the courthouse, Clemens thanked his family and supporters for sticking with him.

ROGER CLEMENS, Former Professional Baseball Player: I just want to say thanks to these guys behind me who, from day one, listened to what I had to say. Obviously, for the last four-and-a-half, five years, I wasn’t able to say anything.

So it was great to see some old friends and teammates and just some neat people. I want to thank those people who took time out of their schedules to come in on my behalf.

RAY SUAREZ: The charges stemmed from Clemens’ testimony at a nationally televised hearing in February 2008. His first trial ended in a mistrial last year.

For more, we go to Michael O’Keeffe. He’s been covering the trial for The New York Daily News. He’s co-author of the book “American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime.”

Michael, Roger Clemens faced six counts of perjury. He wasn’t charged with using drugs or cheating at baseball. But wasn’t this a trial all about drug use all the same?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE, The New York Daily News: It was in that the government had to prove that Clemens lied when he told Congress in 2008 that he had never used human growth hormone or never had used steroids. The government had to prove that he had used those drugs in order to get a guilty verdict.

RAY SUAREZ: What happened in the last trial? Remind us.

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: Last year, in July, the trial basically just got it started for a couple of days when the government introduced evidence that Judge Reggie Walton had previously barred. And so Walton declared a mistrial pretty quickly. Things got pushed back until this year, until April, when this started again.

RAY SUAREZ: So, this was the first time both sides put on their entire case. Was there a turning point, a witness that ended up really making a big impression on the jury?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: I think there were a couple of turning points. I think the defense did a good job of casting a lot of doubt about Brian McNamee. He was the trainer who was the source in the Mitchell report who said that he had injected Clemens and gotten steroids for Clemens and human growth hormone for Clemens.

Andy Pettitte’s testimony. Andy Pettitte, under cross-examination by the defense, was very wishy-washy. He said it was you know 50-50 that he may have misunderstood Clemens when he testified about a 1999 or 2000 conversation with Clemens about human growth hormone.

McNamee’s wife was also a good witness for the defense. They’re in a very bitter divorce right now. And she contradicted a lot of McNamee’s testimony.

RAY SUAREZ: But Brian McNamee, the former trainer, was said to have Roger Clemens DNA on his materials, needles, syringes, cotton balls, all kinds of paraphernalia that showed he used it. Was this not a very convincing case put on by the prosecution?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: To tell you the truth, I thought it was.

But, obviously, the jury disagreed. I think — I guess the defense, they brought in witnesses who raised questions about the chain of custody, about the quality of testing. I guess obviously they were — those witnesses were very persuasive.

RAY SUAREZ: What was the source of the stories that have swirled around Roger Clemens for years? Wasn’t he implicated early on when Major League Baseball first tried to deal with what was clearly runaway steroids use?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: Yes, there had been rumors about this — about Clemens for many years and some false accusations. He was named in an L.A. Times story about steroid use several years ago.

In 2005, if you remember the hearing with Mark McGwire, after that hearing, Congress told Major League Baseball you need to look into this problem and get your house in order. And so Major League Baseball commissioned a study by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to basically look at drugs in baseball, banned drugs in baseball.

Brian McNamee was one of the witnesses that they found. The federal government had been prosecuting another man who was a steroid supplier. They learned of McNamee’s role and his connection with Clemens and Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch through that man, Kirk Radomski. And that’s how Clemens wound up in the Mitchell report which was released in 2007.

RAY SUAREZ: In the testimony before Congress, a lot of doubt was cast on the stories of several players. You mentioned Mark McGwire, but also Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro. How come Roger Clemens was charged with lying to Congress?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: Well, you know, to use McGwire as an example, McGwire, he just took — he basically took the Fifth Amendment. He didn’t say anything to Congress.

After the Mitchell report was released, Clemens went on a very aggressive — you know, he took a very aggressive offense against McNamee and against the Mitchell report. And he sort of forced Congress’ hand. The lawmakers said, you know, this is our report. We ordered them to do this report. So we want to find out who is telling the truth here.

And that’s why that hearing was held in February 2008. It was because Clemens really made it his life’s work, so to speak, at that point to fight back on this thing.

RAY SUAREZ: As far as Major League Baseball is concerned, the United States Congress, the Department of Justice, does this verdict clear the legal cloud over Roger Clemens head? Does he face any further jeopardy?

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: Well, he — there’s a couple of things there. Number one is McNamee has sued him in New York federal court, in a Brooklyn federal court. He’s filed a defamation suit.

So, this legal battle for Clemens is not over. That case will continue to proceed. You know, the other thing that he’s got hanging over him is that he may have been found not guilty, but I don’t know that a whole lot of people find him innocent. I think his chances for the Hall of Fame — he’s eligible to be on the ballot in December — were severely damaged by this.

This is a cloud that is going to hang over him for a long time. This is really going to define his legacy even long after he’s dead. This is going to be an asterisk on his legacy.

RAY SUAREZ: Michael O’Keefe, from The New York Daily News, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL O’KEEFFE: Thank you for having me.