A congressional committee will look into former baseball slugger
Sammy Sosa’s denial that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs in
light of a report that he tested positive for a performance-enhancing
drug in 2003. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, says that the
committee takes seriously suggestions that a witness had been
Towns said in a statement Wednesday that he will determine the appropriate steps following a review of the matter.
Given Tuesday’s news, there is no question that Sammy was, at the
very least, being cute with Congress during his 2005 testimony. That
said, I don’t think anything will come of this and don’t expect that
Sosa will ultimately be charged.
Why? Because Sammy never appeared to have actually said that he didn’t do steroids. He said “To be clear, I have never taken illegal
performance-enhancing drugs.” He said “I have not broken the laws of
the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been
tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean.” Those statements — and
many others he made during his testimony — allow for the possibility
that he used substances that were legal in the Dominican Republic that
would have been illegal to use in the United States.
I know that such a distinction is going to make a lot of you mad, but
federal perjury law is really, really, clear in holding that responses
to questions made under oath that relay truthful information in and of
themselves, but that are intended to mislead or evade the examiner
cannot be prosecuted. Instead, the criminal-justice system requires
that the questioner — in this case Congress — diligently followup on
such answers and suss out the misleading nature of the response
themselves. A relatively non-technical summary of that law can be found here. And yes, it’s an unpopular law in some circles, but it is the law, and there are several good reasons for it being as it is.
I don’t know what Sammy Sosa took, when, and where. But neither does
Congress, and they didn’t try to obtain that information in 2005 even
though they were presented with an opportunity to do so. And believe
me, there were lawyers all over that hearing room, and you can bet that
many of them were aware of the implications of Sosa’s carefully-phrased
statements that day. If they wanted to nail him for perjury, they
should have nailed him down then.
But they didn’t, and because of that, I think he skates.