I’ve been pretty clear about not being a big Roger Clemens fan. I’ve also been pretty clear in thinking that the case against him is going to be stronger than the case against Barry Bonds for the simple reason that, unlike in the Bonds case, the jury will hear from someone who claims to have direct knowledge of the situation that Roger Clemens did, in fact, take steroids. That person is his former trainer, Brian McNamee.
What I haven’t said a lot about lately, but which I wrote about extensively three years ago when all of this was first bubbling to the surface, is that Brian McNamee has his own problems as a witness and will be subject to a pretty rigorous cross-examination. Cross-examination on the most fundamental and potentially damning basis on which any witness can be crossed: his credibility.
The facts are these: McNamee is an admitted liar. He lied for years about Clemens steroid use, protecting his position as Clemens’ personal trainer and protecting his neck as an illicit drug distributor. In that process he famously wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he denied Clemens ever took steroids. Prosecutors will have no choice but to deal with that from the get-go, establishing that, yes, he was once untruthful regarding the matters on which he will testify in this case, but now he is being honest. The defense, of course, gets to ask the best question any lawyer can ever ask any witness: “so, were you lying then or are you lying now?”
But there’s another matter which touches on McNamee’s credibility. It’s far more complicated and potentially explosive, however, and late last night it exploded into this case when Clements’ lawyers filed a motion on the subject: McNamee was once suspected of and questioned about drugging and raping a woman in a Florida hotel pool when he worked for the Yankees in 2001. No charges ever resulted from the incident. But the critical takeaway was that the police suspected — and noted in their reports — that they believed McNamee lied to them during questioning.
Clemens’ lawyers want that stuff admitted into evidence during Clemens’ trial. Prosecutors, of course, want no part of it in there. Clemens’ lawyers likely want to paint with a broad brush, touching on the credibility angles, but wouldn’t mind a bit if it all gave the jury the impression that McNamee is a rapist who somehow slithered free. Prosecutors would like it all avoided, because it “could become a ‘sideshow’ that would unfairly prejudice the jury against their leading witness.”
It strikes me that the incident has to come into evidence in at least some limited fashion due to that credibility angle. That Clemens’ lawyers should be able to establish that, when questioned by law enforcement in 2001, McNamee was believed to have lied, thus suggesting the possibility that, when questioned by law enforcement during the course of the Mitchell Report, he lied once again. How much latitude Clemens lawyers should get in bringing up the underlying facts of the investigation (i.e. the alleged rape) as opposed to bringing up the lying stuff is the line the judge will have to walk. And it won’t be an easy line.
So no, the Clemens trial will not be solely about illicit drugs, hotel room injections and abscesses on Clemens’ buttocks. There will be some ugliness in there too.