House committee considering excusing Giambi
Justice department fears steroid hearing could impact BALCO case
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WASHINGTON - Congressional lawyers are talking with Justice Department officials about possibly excusing New York Yankees star Jason Giambi from the steroid hearing next week, NBC News reported Thursday, citing a congressional official familiar with the committee deliberations.
Meanwhile, Jose Canseco said he is willing to tell all at the hearing looking into steroids in baseball, but first he wants assurances he won’t get in trouble for what he says.
Canseco asked Thursday for immunity if he’s to testify fully, but a spokesman for the lawmaker who will chair the proceeding offered no promises. Canseco and Giambi are among seven players summoned to appear at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee.
Justice Department officials are concerned that any testimony from Giambi could harm the government's case in the ongoing grand jury investigation of the BALCO lab, NBC News reported, according to the official.
"We are in the process of considering the impact on pending criminal investigations," Congressional officials told NBC News on Thursday.
Justice officials don't want any of Giambi's testimony before Congress to conflict with any BALCO grand jury testimony, NBC News reported.
“If I’m going to talk about anything, I’m going to talk about myself,” Giambi told the Associated Press in Tampa, Fla. “I’m not going to speak for anybody else or talk about anybody else.”
A spokesperson for the House committee says that the lawyer representing many of those called to testify is telling "lies" about the committee's intentions, NBC News reported Thursday.
At least two of the players have inquired about the possibility of immunity for their testimony, NBC News reported, though the same committee source said those discussions have not reached the substantive stage.
Many of the players called to testify have hired Washington-based counsel, NBC News reported.
Committee spokesperson Dave Marin told NBC News that the committee has gone out of its way not to ask for specific names attached to drug test results, contrary to what has been alleged by Stan Brand, the lawyer for baseball and union representatives.
The committee is asking for test results for the last two years, with names redacted, NBC said.
(NBC is a partner in the joint venture MSNBC).
Canseco, the 1988 AL MVP, has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and his best-selling book accuses several stars of steroid use.
“We’ve asked for immunity,” said Canseco’s lawyer, Robert Saunooke. “We hope they give it to us. We’re still going to show up even if we have no immunity and offer whatever testimony we can that does not expose Jose to legal liability.”
If immunity were granted, any prosecutor who wanted to charge Canseco would have to prove statements before Congress were not used as evidence. David Marin, a spokesman for committee chairman Tom Davis, said: “At this point, there are no plans to offer immunity to any witness.”
The committee has issued subpoenas to the seven players and four other people. Baseball has said it will fight the subpoenas.
Whether they are granted immunity will be determined by Davis in consultation with others on the committee and the Justice Department.
“My interest has been piqued tremendously by the very defensive reaction of Major League Baseball. It’s really outrageous,” said Christopher Shays, the No. 2 Republican on the committee. “We’re not trying to embarrass anyone, unless they embarrass themselves.”
Henry Waxman, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he would not be opposed to immunity. He sees the hearing as a chance to find out about the role of steroids in the majors and to address the effect on young athletes, not to expose whether individual players used the drugs.
“With all the reports we’ve had in the past decade — major league baseball has refused to investigate,” Waxman said. “Now with the great interest in the subject because of Jose Canseco’s book, and people who said they did and did not use steroids, it’s brought things to a head.
“Major league baseball is taking an attitude that they don’t want to know what happened or maybe they did know and they don’t want anyone else to know.”
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas are the other players subpoenaed. Some were in the process of hiring lawyers and deciding whether to act jointly or individually.
McGwire’s spokesman, Marc Altieri, said his client hasn’t decided whether to appear. Thomas, at spring training in Arizona, said: “If it happens, I’ll go. It’s not a problem.”
Also summoned were union head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, and San Diego general manager Kevin Towers. Fehr and Manfred will appear; Towers said Thursday he wasn’t sure.
“I certainly hope the purpose of the hearings is as described, a real substantial purpose to it,” Fehr said in Tampa. “I’m a little concerned about the way it has developed.”
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