Key Witness Testifies In Clemens' Perjury Trial

The key witness in the perjury trial of baseball star Roger Clemens is on the stand this week testifying that he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs. Nina Totenberg talks to Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, the key witness in the perjury trial of baseball great Roger Clemens endured a withering cross-examination. Brian McNamee, a strength trainer, has testified that he injected Clemens multiple times with performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens is charged with lying to Congress when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs. NPR's Nina Totenberg joins me now. And, Nina, Brian McNamee has been on the witness stand all week, the prosecution's star witness first questioned by the prosecution, what more did he say?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, for the first two days, sometimes in agonizingly repetitive detail, McNamee described how he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs in 1998, 2000 and 2001, and how he got caught by the feds in 2007 and then agreed to implicate Clemens, as he put it, for self-preservation.

There were a few new details here and there, but the main attraction has really been whether he would hold up under cross-examination.

BLOCK: And did he?

TOTENBERG: Well, I would have to say bluntly, he's the squirreliest witness I've ever seen. My colleague Lester Munson from ESPN calls him generically reprehensible. A lot of other reporters are less polite, and these are folks who don't particularly like Roger Clemens and have covered him.

BLOCK: Tell us more, Nina, about the scene in the courtroom this week.

TOTENBERG: Well, to begin with, the defense lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has put up an easel and on it he's written three words: mistakes, memory - meaning memory problems - and lies. And then he asks the witness he's cross-examining, Mr. McNamee, to put his misstatements into one of those. Are they, you know, memory problems or mistakes or lies? And, over and over again, he's had to admit - although you've got to drag it out of him - that he first lied to federal agents, then to the Mitchell Commission, all of that before he came clean. But getting these admissions out of him is not easy. It can take 10 minutes for him to acknowledge that he said something. He wiggles away from it, then he's confronted with notes or grand jury testimony and, finally, he makes the admission, but almost always with caveats.

The point that the defense is trying to make is that all of his testimony is evolving, the contention being that he remembers new details as he needs them or ups the amount of incriminating evidence or changes his exclamations. So, for instance, today he testified that he'd lied to federal investigators initially because he didn't want to hurt Clemens more than he had to. Then he changed his story when the feds threatened to prosecute him for drug dealing.

BLOCK: Apart from discrediting this witness, Brian McNamee, has the defense been able to bring out any evidence that actually helps Roger Clemens?

TOTENBERG: As opposed to hurting McNamee...

BLOCK: Yeah.

TOTENBERG: Well, the steroid story first broke in the press months before McNamee had been contacted by federal investigators and he even emailed Clemens and Clemens' agent asking for the name of a lawyer, saying that he planned to sue the L.A. Times over the story and saying he'd actually talked to the federal agents and told them he wasn't involved and the federal agents actually felt sorry for him.

Now, defense lawyer Hardin then asked, well, explain to the jury why you would write an email to this supposed co-crook of yours who supposedly you shot up and you're professing your innocence. After all, if you had sued the L.A. Times, it would have been a disaster for you and for him if you really were injecting him.

And McNamee agreed that it would have been a disaster, but he maintained he never actually intended to do it, that it was his way of saying that he had Clemens' back and he wouldn't rat him out.

BLOCK: Well, in the end, Nina, after these four days of testimony, has Brian McNamee been a good witness for the prosecution?

TOTENBERG: Well, not a likeable one and certainly not in a traditional sense because a really great witness has a very consistent story and a really good memory and he has neither, so the question really is, does the jury believe him?

BLOCK: NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

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