Roger Clemens, the larger-than-life pitcher who appeared destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on Thursday on charges that he lied to Congress when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens became the third high-profile athlete in three years to be charged with lying about the use of banned substances and to have on-the-field accomplishments tarnished.
Marion Jones, who won five track and field medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics, served six months in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to making false statements to federal authorities about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds, baseball’s career home run leader, is scheduled for trial in March on charges that he made false statements to a grand jury about his use of performance-enhancing drugs during the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative in California.
The 19-page indictment charged Clemens, 48, with three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress during his testimony in a nationally televised hearing in February 2008 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
At that hearing, Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee contradicted each other about whether Clemens had used steroids and human growth hormone. Andy Pettitte, Clemens’s friend and a longtime teammate, provided a written statement under oath to Congressional investigators in which he said Clemens admitted to him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used H.G.H.
Days after the hearing, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into Clemens’s testimony.
If convicted, Clemens could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, but under current sentencing guidelines, a conviction would most likely bring a 15- to 21-month sentence. He would probably receive less prison time if he accepted a plea agreement.
“Our government cannot function if witnesses are not held accountable for false statements made before Congress,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. “Today the message is clear: if a witness makes a choice to ignore his or her obligation to testify honestly, there will be consequences.”
The indictment is another blow to Major League Baseball, which is still dealing with the aftermath of the so-called steroid era, in which hundreds of players used performance-enhancing drugs without fear of penalty until the early 2000s. It also continues Clemens’s remarkable fall from grace, which included an admission that he had been unfaithful to his wife after published reports tied him to other women.
In a comment posted on his Twitter account shortly after the indictment became public, Clemens again denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
“I look forward to challenging the Government’s accusations, and hope people will keep an open mind until trial,” the message said. “I appreciate all the support I have been getting. I am happy to finally have my day in court.”
Clemens, a Texas native, became an overpowering presence with the Boston Red Sox in the second half of the 1980s, setting strikeout records and agitating hitters by throwing fastballs under their chins.
But he never won a World Series with the Red Sox, and in 1996 their general manager, Dan Duquette, declined to re-sign him, saying Clemens, 33 at the time, was “in the twilight of his career.”
Over the next decade, however, Clemens became better even as he grew older. He racked up four more of his seven Cy Young Awards and helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1999 and 2000.
In 2004, Clemens returned to Texas, pitching three seasons for the Houston Astros. After flirting several times with retirement, he returned to the Yankees in May 2007, appearing by surprise in the middle of a Sunday afternoon game at Yankee Stadium and dramatically announcing over the stadium loudspeaker that he had rejoined the team.
But five months later, Clemens was forced to confront allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs after the release of a report by George J. Mitchell, the former senator appointed by Commissioner Bud Selig to investigate doping in baseball.
Clemens was the highest-profile player cited in the report, which named him, Pettitte and roughly 100 other players for ties to steroids and human growth hormone.
The report based the accusations about Clemens and Pettitte on statements from McNamee, who said he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone on numerous occasions from 1998 to 2001. (McNamee said in a sworn statement that he had also injected
Clemens’s wife, Debbie, with H.G.H., at Clemens’s request.) Pettitte quickly issued a statement admitting his use of human growth hormone.
Clemens, however, was defiant and with the help of Rusty Hardin, a lawyer in Houston who shared Clemens’s brashness, began a public attack on McNamee’s credibility. Clemens went on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to deny the accusations, and in a news conference he and Mr. Hardin played a tape of a telephone conversation between McNamee and Clemens.
After several weeks of public back and forth between Mr. Hardin and lawyers for McNamee, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform summoned Clemens and McNamee to testify under oath. The committee said Clemens had questioned the credibility of the Mitchell report, which the committee had pushed baseball to compile.
Clemens swept through the halls of Congress, posing for photos with members of the committee that was investigating him and autographing their souvenirs. But that bravado worked against him, lawmakers said in interviews Thursday. He may have falsely believed that his fame would trump the testimony of Pettitte and McNamee that contradicted his own.
His chutzpah, the lawmakers said, may have led Clemens to issue outright denials when previous baseball players had evaded prosecution by using vague or equivocal language.
On Feb. 13, 2008, five months after Clemens pitched in his final major league game, he and McNamee sat a seat apart before the committee and disputed each other’s account. Responses from lawmakers broke along partisan lines, the Republicans generally siding with Clemens and the Democrats with McNamee.
Among those who testified before the grand jury were McNamee, Pettitte, David Segui — a former major leaguer who was named in the Mitchell report and has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs — and Jose Canseco, a friend and former teammate of Clemens who has also admitted using performance-enhancing drugs.
Canseco wrote a book in which he linked several high-profile players, including Mark McGwire, to the use of performance-enhancers, but he has been one of the few people to come to Clemens’s defense, saying he had no knowledge that Clemens used banned substances. One intriguing piece of evidence in the Clemens case was syringes that McNamee said he stored in his basement after using them to inject Clemens with drugs.
McNamee handed over the syringes and related drug paraphernalia to federal authorities shortly after Clemens began publicly disputing his account. The authorities tested them for the presence of performance-enhancing drugs and Clemens’s DNA. The New York Times reported last year that the tests revealed the presence of steroids. The Washington Post reported that authorities detected the presence of Clemens’s DNA.
In the Yankees’ locker room in the Bronx on Thursday, Pettitte and Derek Jeter, another longtime teammate of Clemens, declined to discuss the indictment. But Jorge Posada, who caught many of Clemens’s games as a Yankee, came to his defense.
“We’re still very good friends and hopefully everything will be all right,” Posada said. “I’m going to support him and going to be behind him, and that’s all I can say.”