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DOJ Asked to Launch Perjury Probe of Clemens

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Roger Clemens showed up at spring training in Florida this week to work with young baseball players. His message to the media horde following him around: it's time to move on from the stories about drug allegations. But yesterday Congress sent a message to Clemens: not so fast. The heads of the committee that heard Clemens testify two weeks announced they have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens lied to them about whether he used banned drugs.

NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN: Let's recap. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens spent over four hours under oath in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The most significant thing he said took four seconds.

Mr. ROGER CLEMENS (Baseball Pitcher): Let me be clear, I have never taken steroids or HGH. Thank you.

GOLDMAN: Yesterday the committee said you're welcome with a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Signed by committee chair Henry Waxman, a Democrat, and ranking Republican Tom Davis, the letter asks the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens committed perjury and made knowingly false statements during the hearing and during a sworn deposition days before.

Waxman and Davis are careful to say they haven't reached a definitive judgment as to whether Clemens lied. But the fact is they're not asking for an investigation of Brian McNamee, the former personal trainer who says he injected Clemens with banned drugs.

The letter states that Clemens' denials directly contradict McNamee's sworn testimony and the testimony of pitcher Andy Pettitte. He said Clemens admitted using human growth hormone, now banned in baseball, in a conversation the two men had about ten years ago.

Beyond McNamee and Pettitte, the letter cites other parts of Clemens' testimony that might not be truthful. In the Mitchell Report on doping in baseball, McNamee says Clemens attended a party thrown by former big leaguer Jose Canseco where Canseco and Clemens allegedly discussed drugs.

Here's what Clemens said about that in exchange at the hearing with Congressman Davis.

Mr. CLEMENS: I don't remember his party.

Representative TOM DAVIS (Republican, Virginia): OK. Is it possible your wife and your kids could've gone without you?

Mr. CLEMENS: I believe my wife Debbie was in my golf foursome and the kids sure could've been.

Rep. DAVIS: But you don't remember being there at all.

Mr. CLEMENS: I don't.

GOLDMAN: The Justice Department is reviewing the letter from Waxman and Davis. Law professor Todd Peterson from George Washington University used to work in the department. He says Justice takes every referral from Congress quite seriously.

Professor TODD PETERSON (George Washington University): Particularly when it comes from the chair and ranking minority member of a committee. This is not an action that is taken lightly by the committee, and when the department receives it I think they give it very close attention.

GOLDMAN: Indeed, the committee asked the department to investigate major leaguer Miguel Tejada. And the FBI confirms it launched a preliminary inquiry into whether Tejada lied about drug use.

An investigation is one thing, a perjury indictment and trial is another. Perjury's tough to prove. There has to be intent, a person saying something they know to be false.

Rusty Hardin is Roger Clemens' lawyer.

Mr. RUSTY HARDIN (Lawyer): Right now, if Roger is wrong about certain things but he did not intentionally lie about them, then he hasn't committed perjury.

GOLDMAN: Legal analysts say, though, that Clemens has been so certain about his denials that perjury may be easier to prove than if he were more wishy-washy in his testimony.

Rusty Hardin calls the letter much ado about nothing. He says Clemens always knew there'd be a criminal referral if Clemens publicly disputed the allegations by McNamee. Hardin welcomes the chance to try the case in court if it goes that far. In court, he says, there won't be a rush to judgment about Roger Clemens.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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