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Witch Hunts And Show Trials


Well, the egregious waste of money in the Clemens prosecution was good for one thing — we get Pierce to weigh in:

We all should have seen the Clemens verdict coming from the end of the first trial when, in a veritable tsunami of flop-sweat, the prosecution tried to introduce evidence that Judge Reggie Walton had already excluded. Now, whether or not you believe that the prosecution tanked their own case on purpose because they knew it had been rendered a loser — something I believe more strongly after yesterday’s developments than I did at the time — or whether you believe the government’s lawyers thought Walton had fallen into a coma and wouldn’t notice what they were doing, trying Clemens a second time has to be the biggest waste of federal criminal-justice resources since the last time Alberto Gonzales drew a paycheck. At least the prosecutors in the Edwards case have decided to cut their losses and go home.


In our drug wars, all damage is collateral damage. We trash civil liberties, abuse prosecutorial discretion, countenance hopeless grandstanding among our political elites, and endow our judicial process with the essential — and extraordinarily un-American — dynamics of the witch hunt and the show trial. It was the former that ensnared Clemens in a perjury trap, and it was the latter in which the matter was adjudicated. The government brought this case because it needed a high-profile win to justify all the money and time it has wasted chasing everyone in baseball who ever looked sideways at a hypodermic needle. Off on the sidelines, the anti-drug industrial complex stood up and cheered, when it wasn’t spinning the old drug-warrior boogedy-boogedy that is its stock in trade every time drugs make the country crazy again. I listen these days to what comes out of, say, the United States Anti-Doping Agency and all I hear is Mel Brooks as the cross-eyed governor William J. LePetomaine from Blazing Saddles.

“We’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen.”

There’s a defense of the Clemens prosecution that maintains that lying to Congress is a serious offense. And, well, it is, but context also has to be considered; when setting priorities alleged lies to Congress told as part of pointless grandstanding steroid witch hunts should be near the bottom of the Department of Justice’s list of priorities. But even leaving aside the utter triviality of the alleged perjury, the defense collapses because the government obviously didn’t have a case. If not for the context of the steroid witch hunt, it’s inconceivable that a case this extraordinarily weak would have received more that cursory consideration to be brought to trial. “I just know he used steroids” might be good enough for a lot of hack sportswriters who should be stripped of their Hall of Fame voting privileges, but in a court of law, not so much. And the actual evidence presented by the government in this case consisted of the not-credible testimony of a single exceedingly impeachable witness.

This is also an important point:

In fact, one of the only things Clemens actually admitted to shooting up was lidocaine because, as we know, it is very moral to deaden the pain of your injuries so they can get worse as you play without your noticing it. Generations of crippled NFL players will attest to the essential ethics of that.

Well, yes, but how much does pumping up players full of painkillers so they can do damage to themselves threaten the sacrosanct hitting records of boomer heroes who should own those records in perpetuity? Unless it does, it’s hard to see how this can be a serious issue…

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  • While I agree with this in principle, the one aspect that makes Clemens somewhat of a unique case is that he requested his hearing before Congress. So even to the extent that we shouldn’t get riled up about perjury in the course of Congressional grandstanding, someone who asks to participate in that grandstanding for the sole purpose of lying under oath seems like it should probably be something of another matter, at least to me.

  • CJColucci

    So now we have the civil defamation suit. The whole point of it seems to be to get Clemens under oath where (assuming, as many of us do, that he did juice up) his options once the deposition notice goes out are to: (1) lie under oath again, putting him at risk of prosecution for a new act of perjury; or (2) take the Fifth, damning what’s left of his reputation and making the case a slam-dunk win for the plaintiff.
    Maybe Clemens should just default. Then he doesn’t have to testify. There will have to be an inquest on damages, however, and it shouldn’t be hard to show (especially with the testimony from the criminal trial)that plaintiff has — and had — no reputation to speak of for Clemens to damage. The damages award from a default would probably be less than Clemens’s attorneys’ fees for defending the case.

  • rea

    I’m somewhat mystified why double jeopardy didn’t bar the second trial, after a mistrial in the first due to prosecutorial misconduct.

    • Richard

      I think the judge ruled that the misconduct was unintentional (not that I know anything at all about double jeopardy standards)

  • amok92

    Isn’t the purpose of show trials to rig a guilty verdict so we can all get our Two Minute Hate On? Can this country do anything right?

  • c u n d gulag

    Well, we had to look backwards and not forwards on baseball’s steroids issues, to make up for looking forwards and not backwards on issues like illegal wars and occupations, torture, spying on all citizens, and other obvious and evident transgressions against the US Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and other International Treaties.

    And besides, Clemens lied to Congress. Something NO ONE from the Bush Administraion EVER did!!!

    PRIORITIES, people!!!

  • Also, major kudos to anyone who will rip the USADA in a major publication. I suspect his editor is getting a stern talking to from his bosses at ESPN for letting that blurb into print.

  • Jonas

    But those records by boomer heroes really are sancrosanct and need to be protected from these modern needle-using frauds. I mean, Mickey Mantle would never allow some unlicensed medical personnel to inject him with some ‘vitamin’ elixir to increase his energy levels before big games. That would create the possibility that he could be injured by the process and miss a World Series game or something.

    • Think of how much high sanctimony we would have been spared if only Bob Costas or Billy Crystal had been one of those doey eyed kids who had their baseballs inscribed with a “fuck you” by a drunk off his ass Mantle.

      • Njorl

        I wonder if there are specialists who can vouch for the provenance of a Mickey Mantle “Fuck You” baseball.

        • Scott Lemieux

          I dunno, but apparently he really did answer a Yankees PR questionnaire by saying that his greatest moment in Yankee Stadium was when he “got a blow-job under the right field Bleachers, by the Yankee Bull pen.”

          • Halloween Jack

            “The All-American Boy.” Oh, Mickey.

            • Scott Lemieux

              If Barry Bonds had done that, Murray Chass would never stop having aneurysms.

              • I’m fairly certain nothing could drive him to top this, though:

                Ruth played in an era in which baseball was basically the only popular team spectator sport, and he was by far the best and most popular player. He emanated charisma. He transcended baseball. When, in 1931, he wanted a bigger salary than President Hoover was making, he said he deserved it because he had a better year. He was probably right.


  • Bart

    “…lying to Congress is a serious offense.”

    What about lying to, say, Jeff Sessions?

  • Mike G

    lying to Congress is a serious offense

    Whereas lying BY Congress is a job requirement.

  • joe from Lowell

    Better than a witch hunt or a show trial is a good old fashioned ass-kicking, like this one that Mark Cuban gives to Skip Bayless.

    It really gets good at 3:00, but the whole thing is transcendent.

    “That’s all I saw.”

    “That’s exactly right, Skip, that’s all you saw.”

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