WASHINGTON – Question by question, disputed answer by disputed answer, Roger Clemens' house of lies came tumbling down upon him Wednesday.
Whatever Clemens thought he'd get out of turning a sporting controversy into a federal case courtesy of this congressional hearing never materialized. He scored few points while getting caught up in his own words, nonsensical logic and twisted timelines, even before his friend and former teammate Andy Pettitte laid him out.
Presumably there are people in America who still believe Clemens is the only honest man in this entire sordid steroid scandal, that the entire world (friends included) decided one day to gang up and frame him, that he is just a trusting victim here, but other than those on his considerable payroll, they were hard to find anywhere near room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building on this cold, rainy day.
CLEMENS AND STEROIDS
• Jeff Passan: Depositions paint a complex portrait of McNamee (Feb. 14, 2008)
• Jonathan Littman: McNamee's puny credibility good for Clemens (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens, McNamee takes hits in hearing (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens shelled by Congress (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Hearings: Untruth or consequences (Feb. 12, 2008)
• Steve Henson: Clemens drama worthy of "Sopranos" (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Innocent or stupid (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Jonathan Littman: Clemens-McNamee duel has BALCO roots (Jan. 8, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Telephone tap dance is unpersuasive (Jan. 7, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Clemens drowns in hopelessness (Jan. 6, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens to testify under oath (Jan. 4, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Who to believe (Jan. 3, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Denials by proxy make Clemens look worse (Dec. 18, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens is no different than Bonds (Dec. 13, 2008)
Clemens was doomed from the start, crushed by sworn affidavits and repeated under-oath testimony from Pettitte and his wife Laura – almost unimpeachable witnesses – who not only backed up the words of former trainer Brian McNamee, but blew Clemens' own stories out of the water.
Congressmen Henry Waxman of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland double-teamed Clemens early, and no amount of ensuing sympathetic lawmakers, McNamee creepiness or Clemens campaign speeches could bail him out.
"I found McNamee very credible," Waxman said after the hearing. "I thought what he said had a lot of credibility."
Clemens is almost assuredly going to face federal perjury charges after he continued to stick to a story that stood in stark contrast with repeated under-oath testimony of everyone else. Once the Pettittes – and former teammate Chuck Knoblauch – backed McNamee's word over Clemens', this was no longer about he said, he said.
This was he said, everyone said.
"You understand you're under oath," Cummings kept asking Clemens, almost dumbfounded that the pitcher could be so brazen under oath.
What else could Cummings do? It was stunning to watch Clemens hang himself, trying to worm his way out from under Pettitte's testimony.
"I'm looking for an independent source to tell me what to believe," Cummings said. "There are a number of things that make (Pettitte's) testimony swing the balance over to Mr. McNamee. And a number of them come from your own words."
It was one thing for Clemens to attack the credibility of McNamee, who has his own ethical issues, but Pettitte testified not only about his own drug use. Just for honesty's sake, he admitted a few more things, and thereby became unassailable.
Clemens could only offer that Pettitte must have "misheard" or "misremembered" the detailed account Pettitte gave about Clemens telling him that he took HGH. But he had no answer for the fact that Pettitte's wife, in a sworn affidavit, said that her husband told her of the conversations at that time and the stories haven't changed.
It was a double barrel shot of destruction, the Pettittes asserting that their close friend was now not just a cheat, but a liar.
Clemens had nothing, just pathetic ramblings about how he was a great American for pitching at the Olympics, how if he was guilty of anything it was "being too nice," and throwing everyone from his agents, to his mother, to his wife under the bus of blame.
According to Clemens, this was just one big conspiracy, apparently. But he looked like a guy who's been surrounded by yes men for decades, someone so removed from reality he figured he could come to Capitol Hill, talk loud, and everyone would nod and leave him alone.
Only a couple of our most inane lawmakers bought any part of his nonsense defense.
His factual arguments were particularly ridiculous. He claimed Pettitte must be confused, because if Pettitte really thought Clemens had used HGH, he would have come and asked Clemens about the drug before taking it himself.
But Pettitte did think Clemens was using HGH and didn't discuss it with Clemens.
Cummings pointed out the failed logic behind that argument. Only to have Clemens repeat it a couple more times.
When Clemens claimed McNamee lied to save himself from prosecution, Cummings pointed out that McNamee told Pettitte about Clemens' drug use in 2002, which means he would have been predicting the future. How is that possible?
"I don’t know," Clemens said.
It was all he had, like a struggling pitcher waiting for a bullpen to come save him.
"It's hard to believe you, sir," Cummings said. "It's hard to say that; you are one of my heroes. But it's hard to believe you."
And Rep. Mark Souder after the hearings: "I found Clemens almost as believable as Rafael Palmeiro."
The lengthy hearings were predictably foolish and distracted at times, unnecessary tangents explored for no apparent reason.
In classic Washington fashion, things occasionally broke along partisan lines. Somehow Republicans and Democrats around here can't agree on anything, even the circumstances surrounding the formation of a "palpable mass" on Clemens' backside.
Clemens' best moments came when McNamee was skewered for his tendency to lie – mostly to newspaper reporters. But even that was Washington gumption; the idea that politicians should lecture anyone about telling the truth is absurd.
The most vocal grandstander was Rep. Dan Burton of rural Indiana, who absolutely skewered McNamee.
"This is really disgusting," Burton said. "I don't know what to believe. I know what I don't believe and that's you."
Strong words from a guy who while cheating on his wife knocked up his girlfriend and went years without visiting his son (though he was kind enough to cut him some checks).
But that's America and this is its pastime.
One of Clemens' chief problems was he was fighting on difficult ground. The contested points of his story centered on whether he took performance enhancing drugs, whether he told people he took them, whether he participated in witness tampering and whether he changed his under oath stories. These all were the heart of the matter here.
For McNamee, the debate was about whether he accurately remembered whether Clemens was at a party at Jose Canseco's house, a fairly unimportant detail, or whether he told tales in the newspapers, which is not a crime.
Clemens could never counter why McNamee was telling the truth about Pettitte and Knoblauch, but lying about him. Or why Pettitte was lying at all.
"Andy would have no reason to (lie)," Clemens said. "He's my friend."
Since everyone here acknowledged that one side must be lying and no one thought it was Pettitte, guess who that left with a self-imposed, ill-fated and unnecessary perjury charge on the horizon?