As the perjury trial of Roger Clemens moves forward, lawyers for the former professional baseball pitcher today renewed their effort to force a top House Republican to testify.
Lawyers for Clemens said they want Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to address comments he made during the 2008 congressional investigation of drug use in Major League Baseball.
A lead attorney for Clemens, Russell “Rusty” Hardin Jr., said today in a new court filing the defense intends to challenge the testimony of a congressional staffer, Phil Barnett, who earlier told jurors that the probe was legitimate congressional activity.
Issa, through House lawyers, has invoked the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which accords some protection from outside intrusion to the legislative process. One of the questions in the Clemens case: Did the congressional inquiry of drugs in baseball serve any legitimate legislative purpose?
Issa attended the Clemens deposition on Capitol Hill in February 2008, shortly before Clemens testified publicly and denied using steroids and human growth hormone. In published statements, Issa questioned whether the drug probe was an appropriate use of congressional resources.
“We’re not supposed to be a criminal investigation entity,” Issa said in one newspaper report, referenced in Clemens’s legal papers. “We don’t really have a mandate to be looking at this.”
Hardin said Issa “is well positioned to opine about the legislative purpose of the questions to Mr. Clemens and the materiality of his answers to those questions. And Chairman Issa’s numerous comments to the media leave no doubt that his testimony will be exculpatory.”
Clemens’s defense lawyers said the House attorneys for Issa have raised an issue at the “margin” of the speech or debate clause. “The core principle of the Speech or Debate clause is that no legislator may be prosecuted by the executive for speech and debate on the floor of Congress,” Clemens’s attorneys said today.
The Clemens defense team reject the argument, beyond the speech or debate clause, that forcing Issa to testify will cause a major disruption in his schedule.
Issa, the defense lawyers said, “works but a few blocks from the courthouse and his testimony will be brief. As a result, requiring him to testify will cause minimal disruption of his responsibilities.” Issa’s office is about a half-mile away from Washington’s federal district court.
"Chairman Issa need not prepare to testify in this trial; he need only appear and tell the truth," Clemens's lawyers said. "To the extent he cannot recall information, his memory can be refreshed while testifying."
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton hasn’t ruled on the constitutional dispute in the Clemens trial, which is expected to run into early June.