Monday, March 16, 2009

The Politics Of Baseball's Doping Scandal

The thought occurred to me the other day, President Obama, a noted left handed three point shooter, could have an enormous impact on baseball's doping wars. It seems just a year ago the government was all set to bring Barry Bonds, baseball's home run king, to trial on perjury charges and to charge future Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens with lying to Congress.

Both cases stems from the resolve of former Attorney General, John Ashcroft, several years ago to go after Balco Laboratories , largely believed to be a provider of human growth hormones.

Ashcroft went after Balco with the same vigor he utilized to force the Patriot Act into the national lexicon. The Justice Department under Ashcroft cast a wide net and sent the Balco kingpin to jail along with the trainer of baseball's home run king, Barry Allan Bonds.

The Obama administration immediately upon taking office, stepped into several quagmires left over from the Bush years, namely the economy, the housing crises, the war in Iraq and the closing of Gitmo. They also have to contend with what to do about "Barrymo" and "Rogermo."

The government cases are complicated by the fact their investigations commenced long after the alleged drug use occurred. Thus the government has to rely upon the testimony of the trainers who allegedly pricked the stars in the hinney and endowed them with super human powers to hit and pitch their way into the record books.

In the case of Mr. Bonds, his trainer has spent time in jail over his refusal to testify against his boss. The government has not been able to pressure him into testifying and were forced to release him from jail without extracting any concession from him to cooperate at trial.

Mr. Bond's defense team has been successful in getting any evidence that smacks of drug use thrown out of court. What scant evidence the government has remaining at its disposal must have a witness to establish a change of custody back to Mr. Bond's backside. Presumably the only person who can establish the proper change of custody is his trainer. The Bonds case has been put off indefinitely and may never be presented to a jury.

Roger Clemens has denied that he knowingly used a banned substance. Brian McNamee, his former trainer, however, states that Mr. Clemens was injected with a human growth hormone on numerous occasions by him. According to Mr. McNamee, Clemens' wife was also pricked on her posterior by him with a human growth hormone in the pitcher's bedroom. With respect to Mr. Clemens the government has a witness, albeit a tainted witness.

It was presidential politics which threw out the first pitch in the baseball drugging wars with the knuckle ball Mr. Ashcroft lobbed to Mr. Bonds and it may be presidential politics that saves Mr. Clemens.

In late 2007, George Mitchell, a former congressman, submitted his investigation into the use of banned substances to Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball. Listed in that study was one Roger Clemens, a heretofore, sure fire bet to be elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Mr. Clemens had refused to cooperate with the Mitchell investigation and had declined an earlier invitation to come to Capitol Hill and discuss any knowledge he had on the use of steroids in baseball.

Following the Mitchell report, Mr. Clemens thought better of the idea and decided to appear before a congressional committee looking into steroid use in professional baseball. He hired a prestigious Washington law firm, Covington & Burling.

When Mr. Clemens retained Covington & Burling a young senator from Illinois was a slight blimp on the presidential radar screen. Mr. Obama was doing so poorly Georgia Democrats did not invite him to speak at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner held in February last year.

One partner in Covington & Burling law firm was a former justice department official, Eric Holder, who represented the National Football League earlier in this decade when the league was clouded with the suspicion of widespread drug use. Mr. Holder is credited with getting the NFL, the player's union, the justice department and law enforcement representatives together in the same room and essentially delayed the investigation into the use of banned substances. His sagacious legal work allowed the league time to police itself without government intervention and a wide scale indictment of its players.

Just as the government was poised to present its case against Mr. Clemens to a federal grand jury, Mr. Obama snaps off a wicked three-two slider at the knees (Steve Caltonques) and appoints George Mitchell, a special envoy and sends him to resolve the dispute between Arabs and the Jews.

Next the president nominates Mr. Holder as Attorney General. He removed himself from the case due to the fact his former law firm had represented Mr. Clemens in this very matter.

Mr. Holder did not personally represent Mr. Clemens, that assignment fell to Lanny Breuer another partner in the firm and yet another Obama justice department nominee. Breuer is waiting congressional approval to become assistant attorney general, in the Department of Justice's, Criminal Division. This is the division that is charged with deciding whether to prosecute Mr. Clemens and whether to continue to prosecute Mr. Bonds.

What makes the government's case against Mr. Clemens problematic is the fact, as Mr. Clemens' defense counsel, Breuer strongly argued McNamee is a "troubled man" who "apparently has manufactured evidence."

Obviously if approved by the senate, Breuer will follow the bosses lead and not have any contact with the government lawyers prosecuting this case. However, knowing the boss has such strong feelings about your key witness must have a chilling effect upon the justice department lawyers called upon to bring Mr. Clemens to justice.

(c) Copyright March 16, 2009

1 comment:

TenFeet2Hands said...

I enjoyed this article’s strong focus on the topic and the supporting history. Many will not and have not access to the fine points especially the lawyers and their recent appointments.

Legal articles are usually a challenge to follow --not this one, it was written much like a conversation, that is what makes it great. Thanks!

Paper Puzzle