Smerconish: There was ‘no shame’ in bringing perjury charges against Clemens

Updated
 

By Michael Smerconish
Follow @smerconish 

Let me finish tonight with some thoughts about the not guilty verdict in the Roger Clemens trial.

In the last 24 hours, I have heard many pair this result with the outcome of the John Edwards trial. Yes, viewed one way, the feds are 0-2 in recent, high-profile trials, but I don’t see the cases similarly.

The Edwards outcome made sense to me. Where the campaign finance laws had never previously been used for such a prosecution, and in light of the dispute as to whether monies given by two supporters were for the benefit of the campaign or to contain a private dispute, and where John Edwards was a broken man, I viewed the prosecution as excessive. I’m no fan of Edwards, but ours is not a system that should ever try someone because they’ve bottomed out.

The Clemens case was something entirely different. The issue was whether the most decorated baseball pitcher in history lied to Congress while under oath in a hearing about steroids.  

I suspect many opinions about the Clemens prosecution are skewed by whether people think Congress should have been involved in that issue to begin with.  

It’s a shame Congress had to be involved. But where Major League Baseball was perceived as not cleaning its own house while enjoying an anti-trust exemption, Congress was certainly justified in holding a few hearings to inquire into one of the most significant scandals that America’s pastime has ever faced.

But again, that was not the issue in the Clemens trial. The question was whether the most decorated baseball pitcher in history lied under oath. And about that, we should all be concerned.

Our society is governed by the rule of law. One foundation of the rule of law is the oath that witnesses are administered in legal proceedings. Without the commitment of witnesses to tell the truth, our legal process falls. It was important in the Clinton impeachment process, and it’s the reason that George Zimmerman’s wife sits in a jail cell today in Florida.

So where Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ friend, former roommate and teammate, said that he thought Roger Clemens admitted to using HGH during a conversation in 1999, an allegation Clemens denied, there was grounds for perjury prosecution. That’s why Congress referred the case to the Justice Department in 2008.

At the recent trail, Pettitte seemed to buckle on cross examination, and agreed with a defense attorney that there was a 50-50 chance he had misheard or misunderstood Clemens. That testimony, and the credibility problems of prosecution witness Brian McNamee, probably explain the outcome of the recent case.

But there is no shame in federal prosecutors having brought these charges. There was far more at stake here than the legacy of the man they call “the Rocket” or of congressional interest in juicing.  

Perjury is notoriously difficult crime to prove because sometimes truth can be elusive. Many baseball fans could oppose prosecuting Roger Clemens due to his popularity, but that makes it all the more important to charge in a difficult case less those with celebrity be treated differently; that is, if we truly wish to be a nation of laws not of men.

Hardball Let Me Finish

Smerconish: There was 'no shame' in bringing perjury charges against Clemens

Updated