Roger Clemens has now been indicted on charges he lied to Congress under oath. That comes as no surprise here, as it seemed to me the Justice Department could not let his very questionable performance before the Congress go uncontested.
If the government is going to be serious about trying to punish Barry Bonds for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury when he denied using steroids, then Clemens had to be indicted for his various denials before a House Committee. As a former federal officer, albeit for a very brief period, I fully support the effort to teach witnesses that their oaths mean something.
But there is another level of instruction that is taking place here as well. One of the roles our government has to play is to continue to remind us all that justice is blind. No one, not even great ball players, can be permitted to behave as if they are different.
I recall an insight into this kind of confusion when I was involved in the investigation of Pete Rose for betting on baseball. One of his lawyers defended Rose by claiming to me, “Pete is a national treasure.” It was clear Rose believed the gambling prohibitions could not be enforced against him without harming the institution of baseball.
Players like Bonds and Clemens spend their entire baseball lives being treated well and differently. Like movie stars and some misguided politicians and businessmen, they come to the conclusion the rules of civil conduct, decent behavior and even the criminal laws cannot subject them to the same standards as the rest of us.
Once again the Justice Department will now try to enforce the criminal laws evenly by prosecuting Clemens for alleged perjury in circumstances that left few options. If Clemens had not been indicted, there would have been the obvious question of whether he got special treatment because of his fame. So here is a tip of the hat to the Justice officials who acted properly.
I learned another lesson in the Rose case. Federal officials moved to indict Rose for tax fraud after Major League Baseball had reached an agreement under which Rose agreed to a lifetime banishment from the game. Federal officials told me they would have tried to indict Rose earlier, but they were concerned a local Cincinnati jury would not have convicted him.
In the Clemens case, there will be an effort by the defense to have the case tried in Texas, where Clemens can be presumed to have some supporters on the jury. Again, one has to be aware jury members can be unpredictable, and as we have seen in the recent Blagojevich case, one juror can stand against 11 and prevent conviction. The government lawyers will be up against formidable opposition, including experienced defense lawyers, when they try Clemens, but the degree of difficulty cannot stand in their way. It is their duty to present their case.
The jury will decide if laws were broken. The principle at stake here is the ageless belief our legal system cannot function if a witness can lie under oath and walk away from the consequences. And if he did not lie, Clemens now has a day -- or month -- in court to defend himself. Clemens does not have to prove he is innocent. It is we the people acting through our government who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt he lied.
Clemens will now face some heavy hitters. And his formidable physical talents are useless in this game. Now the truth will and must be told.
Fay Vincent, a former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries, served as the commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1989-92.