Supporters Line Up Behind Clemens

Posted February 13, 2008 at 6:35pm

If anyone expected Roger Clemens to be without his supporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, they had to look no further than Natalya Seljuk. She wasn’t shy about which side she was on. The native New Yorker was dressed in a Yankees cap and T-shirt, an outfit more akin to the first day of baseball training camp or opening day than a typical Congressional hearing.

“He’s getting the raw deal and I want him to know that there are people out here that support him,” Seljuk said.

She was one of more than 100 people who stood in a line to gain entry to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in hopes of catching a glimpse of Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee as Members repeatedly challenged them on their statements regarding the use of illegal steroids in Major League Baseball. (Also present was the much less heralded Charlie Scheeler, who served on former Maine GOP Sen. George Mitchell’s staff running the investigation for MLB.)

Many of those in line said they were fans of Clemens and the opportunity was just too big of a draw, even though pitcher Andy Pettitte, retired second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and former Mets employee Kirk Radomski — who also came under scrutiny in Mitchell’s December report on steroid use — were not testifying as originally planned.

“It’s the ultimate in the steroids issue,” said Jenny Orgill, who got to the Rayburn House Office Building at 6:30 a.m. to stand in line.

Some said they were upset with Congress for trying to police baseball and even more upset with what it means for the future of the game.

“It’s tainted the American pastime,” said Edward Silva, an 18-year-old student who was visiting Washington, D.C., with a school group. “Every achievement has a stain on it now. Everything will have an asterisk.”

The only problem for the crowd was that seats were hard to come by. And arriving early didn’t necessarily help. People like Orgill and her friend Caroline Smith were vying for only a handful of seats designated for the public. Committee staff rotated those seats throughout the hearing.

The line-standers barely outnumbered the media, which was in rare form as sports reporters and cameramen, along with the regular Capitol Hill press corps, crammed into the hearing room.

At first, the cameramen focused on Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Tom Davis (R-Va.). That is, until the real show began as Clemens, flanked by his lawyers Rusty Hardin and Lanny Breuer, walked into the room and more than two dozen television cameramen tried to get the money shot of Clemens and the others getting sworn in.

It quickly became clear that Clemens and McNamee, who claims Clemens used steroids, were the focus of the inquiry and would both take the brunt of questions. (It was more than two hours into the hearing before Scheeler was asked his first question. )

Waxman said he was reluctant to hold the hearing and stressed that it was the last the committee would host on the subject. But he explained that he felt there were inconsistencies that needed to be cleared up.

“They both insist they are telling the truth. But their accounts couldn’t be more different. Someone isn’t telling the truth,” Waxman said in his opening statement.

Once the questioning began, the inquiries clearly broke down along party lines, with Democrats taking a much more adversarial tone with Clemens than Republicans. After Clemens testified that he did not take steroids and that his former teammate Pettitte must have “misremembered” in his testimony, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked Clemens three times whether he understood that he was under oath.

The seven-time Cy Young award winner kept his cool for most of the hearing. Wearing a dark suit and pink tie, he answered questions repeatedly, acknowledging at times that his testimony differed from that of his good friend Pettitte’s. But tempers started to flare after Waxman brought up Clemens’ counsel’s interference with the committee’s efforts to talk with a former nanny to Clemens’ children. (The committee eventually got the nanny’s contact information.)

“I was trying to do you all a favor,” said Clemens, of finding the nanny. But Hardin wasn’t going to take that line of questioning without a fight. As if in a courtroom, Hardin stood up and objected and said that Clemens took the advice of his lawyers.

“This is nothing but innuendo. We have cooperated fully,” said Breuer.

But the lawyers were out of turn, Waxman reminded them, because only witnesses can address the committee.

Clemens wasn’t without supporters among Members. As the hearing progressed, Republicans took their shots at McNamee. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) read from a series of articles in which McNamee was quoted as saying he wasn’t involved in steroids, pushing McNamee on his credibility and inconsistencies.

“Gee whiz, are you kidding me?” asked an incredulous Burton about McNamee’s misstatements. “You just lie when it’s convenient for you.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) passed out a press release saying the entire hearing was just a way for Democrats to avoid focusing on issues like immigration.

People who had been standing in line for hours didn’t think the hearing made it any clearer who was telling the truth.

“I was impressed with the frustration after two hours that they haven’t gotten anywhere,” said Richard Bennof, 59, of Lanham, Md. “One of them is lying. It’s like there’s a stalemate.”

But at least one fan was willing to take one of his favorite baseball players at his word. “I’ll believe Roger Clemens until they prove differently or the evidence adds up,” said Donzen Urubshurow, from Bethesda, Md.

Jessica DaSilva contributed to this report.