WASHINGTON — Roger Clemens’ perjury trial opened Wednesday with both sides raising the prospect of calling a roster of former baseball stars as witnesses and the judge angrily criticizing Congress for withholding an audiotape of Clemens’ deposition at the heart of the case.
Clemens is accused of lying under oath to the House Government Reform Committee in 2008 when he denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs during his record-setting career as a major league pitcher. The trial began with an intensive jury selection process expected to last into next week.
Prosecutors and the defense read the panel a list of people who may be called as witnesses or mentioned at the trial. It included some of the biggest names in baseball, among them players who have been at the center of the steroid scandal such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco. Also on the list were baseball commissioner Bud Selig, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, former Yankees manager Joe Torre, former players union director Donald Fehr and several other officials and teammates from the four major league teams Clemens played for.
Jurors were asked about their knowledge of those figures as well as their feelings about the case, baseball, Congress and the law. They were asked whether they played organized sports, read sports news or were baseball fans. One woman was not.
“I can’t imagine spending money to watch a sport where guys scratch themselves and spit a lot,” she said, drawing a smile from Clemens, who otherwise sat expressionless through most of the proceedings.
Another potential juror, former personal trainer and Little League coach Omari Bradley, said he was an avid sports fan who has seen a media drumbeat that Clemens should just admit he used steroids. Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin asked, “Can you be one of the few men in America not to be affected by it or are we going to start out this trial with you thinking he probably did it?”
Bradley, 37, responded it would be difficult for him to find Clemens not guilty. The judge excused him and two others. Six were told to return Tuesday in hopes of seating a panel that day.
The initial trial day began with a vigorous debate over the tape of Clemens deposition to House Government Reform Committee staff on Feb. 5, 2008. Ten of the 15 false or misleading statements Clemens is accused of making to Congress came during that deposition — the other five were during a public hearing eight days later.
The House publicly released a transcript of the deposition held behind closed doors, and prosecutors say the House initially indicated it would turn the audio recording over as evidence for the trial. But William Pittard, a lawyer for the House, appeared in court Wednesday and told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton that the House clerk has the tape and it can only be released by a House resolution.
Hardin angrily responded that if jurors are to determine whether Clemens intended to obstruct Congress, “tone of voice becomes critical.” He said the House referred Clemens for prosecution and should not then be able to choose which evidence to turn over.
Walton said he agreed that “it doesn’t look good” to have Congress withholding evidence, but he didn’t think he could force another branch of government to turn over material because of the Constitution’s separation of powers. He raised his voice as he scolded the House for trying to “hide behind technicalities” and said if Clemens is convicted, the court may have to consider whether he was deprived of a fair trial without the tape.
Hardin said he had a subpoena prepared to hand to House attorney Pittard, but Walton said he couldn’t allow that in the courtroom. Pittard replied that it may have been possible to arrange a resolution with more time. He criticized Clemens for implying Congress won’t turn over material he never asked for before and for “waving a subpoena around in the courtroom on the day his trial begins.”
Walton then addressed another key evidence issue — whether Clemens former Yankee teammates Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton will be able to testify they got drugs from the same trainer who says he provided them to Clemens. Prosecutors say the testimony is critical to back up the allegations by trainer Brian McNamee under Clemens’ denials and accusations that McNamee is a liar.
Walton said during a pretrial hearing Tuesday that he probably wouldn’t let the other Yankees testify about their drug use because it could lead the jury to improperly conclude that Clemens might be guilty, too. But he said he thought about it overnight and thinks the testimony might be valid if Clemens claims that McNamee tried to blackmail him with fabricated evidence.
Clemens attorneys indicated Tuesday they plan to explain that McNamee fabricated evidence against Clemens to ensure the star pitcher would continue employing him as a personal trainer after he lost his job as a Yankees trainer. But Walton questioned why McNamee would try to frame Clemens when there were other players who admit they got drugs from McNamee and who the trainer could have blackmailed.