WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Baseball pitching great Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, clashed under oath at a congressional hearing on Wednesday over McNamee’s claims he injected Clemens with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Sitting together at a witness table but avoiding eye contact, Clemens again denied ever taking such substances and McNamee insisted he did -- while lawmakers questioned the veracity of both men.
At the start of a packed hearing, Clemens was confronted with a sworn statement by former teammate and longtime friend Andy Pettitte that Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used human growth hormone.
“I think he misremembers ... our conversation,” Clemens told the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lawmakers voiced skepticism of Clemens as well as McNamee, noting McNamee failed to initially level with investigators examining use of steroids in baseball.
“You lie when it’s just convenient for you,” Rep. Dan Burton, and Indiana Republican, told him. “I don’t know what to believe. I know one thing I don’t believe, and that’s you.”
The stakes at the nationally televised hearing were high. If either Clemens or McNamee is found to have lied to Congress, they could face up to five years in prison.
Clemens’ reputation as one of the greatest pitchers ever in America’s national pastime is also on the line, while McNamee faces a defamation-of-character lawsuit filed by his former client.
Near the end of the more than four-hour hearing, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, told Clemens: “You are one of my heroes. But it’s hard to believe you.”
Allegations Clemens used steroids were first made by McNamee in an investigative report requested by Major League Baseball, conducted by former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell and released in December.
The report named more than 80 former and current players suspected of having used performance-enhancing drugs.
The 21-month study drew the interest of Congress, which has combated drugs in sports over concerns children would use them to emulate their multimillionaire sports heroes, subjecting themselves to health risks.
Baseball banned the use of steroids in 1991 but did not start testing for it until 2003. Human growth hormone (HGH) was banned in 2005 but there are no effective tests for it.
Sitting together at a witness table but avoiding eye contact, Clemens denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs -- and McNamee insisted that he had.
“When I told Senator Mitchell that I injected Roger Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs, I told the truth,” said McNamee. He has said he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone between 1998 and 2001.
Clemens’ replied: “I have never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other type of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.”
Congress has not scheduled any further hearings to try to determine who was lying.
But in the court of public opinion, Clemens struck out.
In an ongoing online poll by sports cable TV channel ESPN, 69 percent of respondents said they believed McNamee over Clemens.
Gene Grabowski, an executive with a firm that prepares clients for congressional testimony, said the public will not forgive someone who it believes is misleading it.
“The public will forgive a mistake, the public will forgive a misdemeanor, the public will forgive a crime, but what the public will not forgive is a cover-up,” he said.
Clemens, 45, has not yet decided if he wants play another season. During his 24-year career, he won 354 games and received seven Cy Young awards as the best pitcher in his league.
Additional reporting by Steve Keating in Detroit; editing by Philip Barbara