WASHINGTON – Baseball star Rafael Palmeiro will not be prosecuted on perjury charges after lawmakers said Thursday there isn't enough evidence to prove he lied when he told a congressional panel under oath that he had "never used steroids" — six weeks before failing a steroid test.
The investigation did not conclude whether Palmeiro had actually ever used performance-enhancing substances.
"We couldn't find any evidence of steroid use prior to his testimony," House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said in releasing a 44-page report. "That's not a finding of innocence, but it's a finding that we could not substantiate perjury."
At issue was Palmeiro's statement at a March 17 hearing: "I have never used steroids. Period." On May 4, he failed a Major League Baseball drug test, coming up positive for an anabolic steroid. In August, shortly after baseball suspended Palmeiro for 10 days, Davis said Congress would look into whether the player committed perjury.
"We have a responsibility, an obligation, to investigate it, and that's what we've done," Davis said during a news conference in the same hearing room where Palmeiro had testified.
Davis said the steroid for which Palmeiro tested positive is detectable for three to four weeks, shorter than the gap between his failed test and Capitol Hill appearance, and therefore "could not have been in his system the day he testified."
"We were not concerned with why he tested positive or how he tested positive except for how that related to his testimony," Davis added.
Shortly after the report's release, Palmeiro issued a statement.
"I am pleased that after a thorough investigation — one in which I cooperated fully — the committee has chosen to drop this matter," he said. "I want to express my gratitude to the committee for the fairness and professionalism with which they conducted their business. I have never intentionally taken steroids and I strongly oppose the illegal use of steroids by athletes or anyone else."
Palmeiro issued his first detailed public comments on the case Wednesday, including a possible explanation for why he might have failed the steroid test: a tainted vial of liquid B-12 given to him by a teammate. Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada later acknowledged he was the teammate.
The report is based on interviews with Palmeiro, his wife, Tejada and other players, an Orioles physician and trainer, and documents turned over by baseball related to Palmeiro's drug tests and the arbitration hearing about his suspension.
Among the findings:
—Palmeiro took a polygraph test June 13 ahead of his arbitration hearing but never was asked whether he took steroids. Asked by committee staff why that wasn't raised, Palmeiro said, "I'm not sure. I did not set it up."
—When Palmeiro initially was told he failed a steroid test, he was asked by the players' union if there was a substance he might have taken by accident. Palmeiro didn't mention the B-12.
—Palmeiro said his wife, Lynn, injected him with the B-12, explaining she knew how to use a syringe because she gave the family dogs allergy shots.
—Questioned by committee staff about whether he believed the vitamin shot caused the positive test result, Palmeiro said: "Now, I may be wrong. It could be something else. But if I have to guess, if I have to pinpoint something, that is the logical thing."
—Two other current Orioles, identified in the report as Player A and Player B, also were given B-12 by Tejada. "The committee did find substantial inconsistencies between Mr. Tejada's account and the accounts of Players A and B," Davis said. "While these inconsistencies were curious to us, we did not pursue them."
Palmeiro is one of four players in baseball history with 500 homers and 3,000 hits. The timing of his positive test meant Palmeiro knew he faced a suspension as he approached the hit milestone last summer.
His case has been cited as one of the reasons lawmakers have continued to pursue legislation to require tougher rules for steroid testing and harsher penalties for positive tests in baseball and other major professional sports leagues.
A bill calling for a half-season ban for a first steroid offense, a full-season ban for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third reached the floor of the Senate. But a spokesman for one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said Wednesday that an unidentified senator placed a hold on the bill, meaning it's stalled indefinitely.
The House also is considering legislation and Davis said he thinks a bill will pass this year.
According to Palmeiro's lawyers, he tested negative for steroids in 2003 and 2004; after he was informed he failed a test in May, he took a second test that month on his own — not monitored by baseball — which was negative.
Palmeiro, 41, had just two hits in 26 at-bats after returning from his suspension and was booed by spectators at Baltimore and on the road. He was sent home to Texas to rehabilitate injuries; the Orioles eventually told him not to return to the team.