WASHINGTON – Billy Belk eased his rental car onto the driveway of the oceanfront Long Island home. His secret tape recorder, already rolling, captured a GPS voice telling him: "You have arrived."
At what, exactly, no one could have imagined. Inside the house waited Brian McNamee, the man who in the previous months told federal authorities, and then former Sen. George Mitchell's investigators, that he had injected Roger Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. What has ensued since is a fascinating study of two men, the famous pitcher and the trainer he once trusted, one of whom is lying, only no one can decipher for certain which one.
Belk approached the door. He was working for Clemens. So was his colleague Jim Yarbrough. Both were sent to New York by Rusty Hardin, the powerhouse Houston lawyer Clemens hired as much for forceful demeanor as his reputation as a problem-solver for professional athletes. McNamee agreed to meet with Belk and Yarbrough on Dec. 12, the eve of the Mitchell Report's release. McNamee said he wanted to help Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the other star pitcher who he had fingered in the report.
Belk and Yarbrough engaged McNamee in a few minutes of small talk, about McNamee's years as a policeman, about Hardin's background. McNamee brought the chatter to an abrupt end.
"Tell me what your goal is," McNamee said.
CLEMENS AND STEROIDS
• Steve Henson: Roger Clemency (Feb. 28, 2008)
• 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 and 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, 2007)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens is no different than Bonds (Dec. 13, 2007)
"I'll try to be just as straight with you and upfront with you as I can, Brian," Belk said. "Our goal is simply on behalf of Roger and Andy to try to talk with you about the knowledge you have concerning what may or may not come out in the Mitchell Report."
Belk wasn't lying. He wasn't telling the whole truth, either. Hardin was ramping up for the case of his life, and he wanted all the ammunition he could gather. Because the next two months leading up to the recently completed hearing in front of Congress would twist and turn like a country road.
And the future? Well, that is anyone's guess.
At 2:41 p.m. Wednesday, when Rep. Henry Waxman adjourned the Committee on Government and Oversight Reform's hearing that featured Clemens and McNamee sticking to their divergent versions of the truth, the real story – the details of how the greatest pitcher of his generation ended up before Congress possibly perjuring himself – began to emerge.
McNamee, gaunt and dressed in Long Island chic – olive double-breasted suit with wide lapels – slinked out of the hearing while his lawyers mobilized on the room's right side. About 100 feet away, Clemens, filling out his bespoke suit, traded niceties with Rep. Virginia Foxx as his attorneys prepared their post-hearing plan. And Waxman and Rep. Tom Davis, the chairman and ranking minority member, stood in front of a frothing crowd of reporters, bystanders and local high school students on a trip to Rayburn House Office Building.
One mop-haired kid pulled out his cell phone camera and started recording video. He captured Waxman and Davis sloughing off intimations that the hearing had split along party lines – it was rather obvious, and curious, that Democrats favored McNamee's explanation while Republicans sided with Clemens – and encouraging an inquisitive public to view all the documents entered into the record.
In all, they total 1,189 pages. They include depositions from Clemens, McNamee and Pettitte, affidavits from Pettitte and his wife, interviews with trainers and doctors, documents detailing the treatment of a "palpable mass" on Clemens' right buttock, the testimony of Clemens' former nanny, the transcript of the covertly taped interview and one more surreptitiously recorded conversation, the one that began this whole circus.
On Dec. 5, sometime between 8 and 9 a.m., McNamee placed a frantic call to Jim Murray. Call me from a landline, McNamee told Murray.
Murray works for brothers Randy and Alan Hendricks, Clemens and Pettitte's agents, and was the person to whom McNamee reached out when he could not contact either player. Murray returned McNamee's call, clicked the speakerphone button and placed a digital tape recorder next to the amplifier.
"I'm just trying to alert Roger and Andy that they're going to be in the Mitchell Report," McNamee said.
Murray fumbled over his words. McNamee didn't stop dispensing his. The government had him dead to rights, he said. Somehow, he said, "they had tapes from clubhouses." Jeff Novitzky, the IRS special agent who broke open the BALCO case, allegedly threatened to throw him in jail. So he talked.
"It incriminates Roger and Andy," McNamee said.
"It incriminates Roger and Andy?" Murray replied.
McNamee said he spent two days in the hospital, the stress too overwhelming.
"They wanted to bury … Roger," he said.
A few minutes later, Murray hung up the phone. He scurried to Randy Hendricks' office and played him the tape.
With the avalanche of scrutiny about to fall, Hendricks advised Clemens to obtain outside counsel. In came Hardin, and a week later, his associates sat in McNamee's house and heard him tell his version of the truth.
Details, previously unknown publicly, emerged from Congress' entering the interview into the record. Kirk Radomski, the steroid dealer and source of most of the names in the Mitchell Report, would meet McNamee off a highway exit ramp and deliver him drugs wrapped in FedEx packages. McNamee told Belk and Yarbrough that he had spoken with his lawyer, Earl Ward, about illegally backdating a confidentiality agreement with Clemens and Pettitte to avoid having to testify against them. Ward said no.
And McNamee alluded to a meeting with Clemens in 1998 to which Clemens allegedly brought 30 vials of testosterone in a Ziploc bag and a bottle of 200 pills, which McNamee believed were the steroid Anadrol-50.
"I (have) told you more truth than I told the federal government," McNamee said to Belk and Yarbrough.
At no point did Clemens' investigators dispute that. They listened and asked questions. They heard McNamee talk about Clemens bleeding through the bottom of his pants after a shot gone bad and how after that Clemens carried around Band-Aids. They watched McNamee seethe at Clemens allegedly telling Jose Canseco that steroids contributed to his success.
"I won two Cy Young Awards on that (expletive)," McNamee remembered Clemens saying.
As McNamee talked, Clemens sat in Texas awaiting the most harrowing day of his life. His accomplishments, his good name, his reputation – all would crumble under the allegations of steroid use, whether true or false. He met with Hardin and agreed on the tack that has drawn so much criticism.
"We've got to fight," Hardin said. "The whole world thinks he's crazy. You saw the skepticism. Roger always knew that. But I ask everyone to decide: If you lived in the public all your life, and somebody comes out and says the things that were in the Mitchell Report, what is that person supposed to do to try to protect their public reputation?"
Clemens sued McNamee for defamation of character. He went on "60 Minutes" to deny McNamee's allegations. He taped a phone call with McNamee and played it at a news conference, causing McNamee to turn over to federal authorities needles and bloody gauze he said he saved … just in case. Clemens denied and denied and denied, all the way to Capitol Hill, where he appeared Wednesday in another effort to clear his name.
Just as he did in his sworn deposition, Clemens refuted McNamee's claims that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. In the face of searing questions from Waxman, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Rep. Stephen Lynch, Clemens fumbled through his words, made logic leaps the size of the Grand Canyon and bobbed and weaved around the toughest of questions. He cast blame everywhere – on his mother for advising him to take vitamin B-12 shots, on commissioner Bud Selig for not tracking him down to tell him about the contents of the Mitchell Report, on Pettitte for "misremembering" a conversation about his alleged HGH use, on his wife for being the real HGH user in the family – except on himself.
"I never had any detailed discussions with Brian McNamee about HGH," Clemens said.
Less than a minute later, asked about a conversation regarding Debbie Clemens' use of HGH, Clemens responded to the same question from Rep. John Tierney with a different answer.
"That very much is detailed conversation," Clemens said.
Contradictions and misrepresentations abounded. Clemens claimed he did not respond to Mitchell Report investigators because he assumed the inquiry regarded the Los Angeles Times story that mistakenly said he was in the affidavit given by Jason Grimsley. Pettitte, however, said in his deposition that he "didn't think" the Times story, in which he was named as well, was the reason Mitchell investigators contacted him.
In Pettitte's deposition, he admitted to using HGH he received from his ill father in 2004 in addition to the two times McNamee injected him in 2002. Despite contradicting what he said following the Mitchell Report's release, Pettitte was hailed an impermeable witness by Cummings and Waxman, who called him a role model.
More than anything, Pettitte served as the fulcrum of questions aimed at Clemens. Cummings, in particular, battered Clemens about why Pettitte, a man with whom he claimed such unassailable character, would lie about Clemens telling him in 1999 or 2000 that he had taken human growth hormone usage.
"I don't think I misunderstood him," Pettitte said in his deposition.
By the people Congressional investigators chose to interview, it was clear they craved an assault on Clemens' credibility. Trainers or doctors from all four teams for which Clemens played – the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros – were interviewed, and each was asked about the veracity of Clemens receiving shots of vitamin B-12 and the painkiller lidocaine, as Clemens claimed he did from McNamee.
Yankees trainer Gene Monahan, who brought more lawyers to his interview (six) than Clemens to his (five), said McNamee, once an assistant strength coach with the team, never would have given him B-12 shots. Tommy Craig, a longtime Blue Jays trainer, said, "I don't know why anybody would get lidocaine to go perform a pitch."
And Dr. Ron Taylor, the Blue Jays' team doctor, said he has given around 1,000 B-12 shots a year over his 30-year career and never seen one cause the "palpable mass" – an abscess-like wound – that appeared on Clemens' buttock in 2000.
Clemens claimed it came from the B-12 shot Taylor administered. McNamee said in his deposition that it came from an injection of Winstrol – a steroid – delivered too quickly.
Amid all the talk of Clemens' behind, McNamee did not exactly acquit himself. A mini-controversy erupted about McNamee's claim in the Mitchell Report that Clemens had talked about steroids with Jose Canseco at a 1998 party. Clemens claimed he did not attend the party and produced a golf receipt from that morning. Others at the party backed his story.
McNamee said he remembered the nanny for Clemens' children bopping around in a bikini. The nanny said she did not attend a party at Canseco's house, though she, Debbie and the children did spend a night there. And her interview came after Clemens and his lawyers visited with her.
Richard Emery, McNamee's other lawyer, said it could be witness tampering. Hardin called it good lawyering.
"There is no money involved," the nanny said in her interview. "I'm doing this because I know it is the right thing to do. He's a good man."
Nanny-gate continued to drag on with the release of Belk and Yarbrough's interview. McNamee said the Mitchell investigators broached the topic of the Canseco party and that his memories were foggy.
"I wanted them to take that out (of the report)," he said, "because I had no idea."
In his deposition, McNamee remembered it in far greater detail, describing a scene in which Debbie Clemens and Canseco's wife, Jessica, complimented each other on their breast augmentation. Such flip-flops torpedoed McNamee's credibility in the eyes of a handful of Republican Congressmen. During an attack from Rep. Dan Burton, McNamee crossed his arms and slumped forward, trying to slough off Burton's allegation that he had committed "lie after lie after lie after lie" – to the media and to the government and, it was implied, to the committee in front of which he sat.
"He admitted those lies to the federal government," Ward said. "And they walked away thinking Brian McNamee was telling the truth. Everybody should walk away from this knowing Brian McNamee told the truth."
Everybody didn't. Rep. Christopher Shays called him a "drug dealer," Rep. Darrell Issa "a street pusher." Interviews with Congressional investigators, however, show that while McNamee explained the potential benefits of performance-enhancing drugs – Pettitte said McNamee told him that it helped heal injuries – he did not necessarily push it on his clients.
"Definitely at no time did he encourage me to do it," said C.J. Nitkowski, a former major-league pitcher and McNamee advocate.
By the hearing's end, neither man escaped unscathed nor was proven innocent. It was quite obvious that the performance-enhancing drug of choice should have been gingko biloba, because neither Clemens' nor McNamee's memory was something of which to be proud.
The hearing had turned out like everything else in this sordid mess: convoluted.
Clemens gave a brief statement and left the building surrounded by five policemen and a lightning storm of flashbulbs. McNamee walked the halls without incident, anonymous, a schnook. Over the 4 hours and 41 minutes of the hearings, and in the time after, they didn't say a word to each other.
From the start, McNamee understood what he was doing. He got pinched in July, threatened in the weeks and months to come and flipped to Mitchell. Nearly half a year passed until Dec. 12, and the consequences of his past actions – of Clemens' past actions – were clear.
"Tomorrow," McNamee told Belk and Yarbrough, "it's going to be a disaster."
And it was. Clemens' name leaked early in the morning, and he has been on the attack ever since, targeting McNamee like a one-man most-wanted list. Whether destroying McNamee's character will absolve Clemens in the public eye is dubious. He cares not. That is the strategy, and Clemens is sticking to it.
Which, in hindsight, makes Belk and Yarbrough's approach look all the more disingenuous. McNamee comes off as genuine in their interview – naïve, sure, in that he believes he can help Clemens and Pettitte after ruining them, yet sincere nonetheless.
"You sound to me like a very credible person," Yarbrough said.
And that seemed to sit well with McNamee. Before Belk and Yarbrough left – before he recommended a few restaurants in the area and thanked them for their help – McNamee thought about his friends and clients, the men whom he says trusted him enough to let him puncture their skin with needles and inject illegal drugs, and what the interview with the investigators might have accomplished.
"I hope," McNamee said, "it salvages whatever relationship I had with Andy and Roger."