Why NOT Lie To Congress?

| Thu Feb. 14, 2008 3:11 PM EST

After yesterday's day-long congressional hearing on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, the consensus on the matter here at our F Street headquarters boils down to two things: Roger Clemens was lying (duh), and devoting federal resources to baseball players is a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money. What makes it particularly "f*ing stupid," to quote my colleague Nick, is that nothing is likely to come of it. Sure, we got to learn some interesting things about Clemens' ass and the complications of injecting yourself with foreign substances. But here's the rub:

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Clemens is not actually at risk of being prosecuted for using steroids, the issue at the heart of the entire brouhaha. After all, he's apparently stopped using them. That would be like prosecuting, well, any of us for having smoked pot in high school. (In fact most prosecutions of 'roid-using athletes have been for lying, not injecting.) But proving that Clemens committed perjury would basically require proving that he once used steroids, a pretty tall order despite the forces aligned against him. While trainer Brian McNamee, who claims to have shot up the famous Red Sox buns, has produced a pile of seven or eight-year-old needles and gauze allegedly soiled with Clemens' bodily fluids and HGH, it's a delightfully weird twist to the case but no smoking gun. The stuff is unlikely to ever see the inside of a courtroom because it's so comprised by chain of custody issues.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Clemens took a gamble that there wasn't much of a downside to lying to Congress. History would be on his side. Recall, for instance, the year 1994, when seven executives of the nations' leading tobacco companies came before the very same House Oversight committee that grilled Clemens. Each one raised his hand, swore to tell the truth, and proceeded to state emphatically that he did not believe tobacco was addictive. Nothing happened to any of those guys. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a single person convicted of lying to Congress since the Reagan administration, even though baseball players have provided rich targets. Back in 2005, during the last round of congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, home-run star Rafael Palmeiro vehemently denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs. A few months later, he tested positive for them. Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) declined to seek prosecution.

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