WASHINGTON -- No one would ever suggest that a press conference is the highest and best form of communication, but the Roger Clemens press conference in January 2008 after the release of the Mitchell Report may have been a low point in the long and rich history of disastrous press statements.
Enraged that he was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens hired a public relations consultant, a crisis management expert and a battery of lawyers to launch a counterattack.
Working at a manic pace, they made a YouTube video, arranged for an appearance on 60 Minutes, started to draft a defamation lawsuit against Brian McNamee (the personal trainer who accused Clemens of using steroids and HGH) and began to prepare for an appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives.
And then, of course, there was the press conference. Before a throng of media on Jan. 7, 2008, Clemens repeated his denial of any use of PEDs and demonstrated his frustration over the accusations made by McNamee and former Sen. George Mitchell. His face red and his voice at top volume, Clemens worked himself into a rage and walked out.
Before his abrupt departure, however, Clemens and his team of experts played a recording of a telephone conversation between Clemens and McNamee in a bizarre attempt to establish the integrity of his denials. Although it certainly didn't come across this way at the press conference, playing the tape was an attempt by the Clemens team to show McNamee was an unreliable person who was asking Clemens for favors for his sick son even as he was accusing Clemens of cheating.
During the telephone conversation, which the Clemens investigators recorded without McNamee's consent, McNamee claimed that his son was in critical condition and "dying."
As awkward and as embarrassing as the press conference may have been, it had disastrous ramifications that Clemens and his experts could not have anticipated.
Listening separately to the press conference and its recorded telephone conversation were both McNamee and his estranged wife, Eileen. Although the estranged couple had agreed on very little for the previous four years, they agreed that Clemens had crossed a line when he decided to use the recording in his press conference.
In her testimony in the Clemens perjury trial on Thursday, Eileen stated that she was "shocked" and "furious" that Clemens had announced her son's physical condition "to the world." She was even more upset with Brian for discussing the boy with Clemens, telling the jury that "I asked him to call me about our son's condition, and he did not call me, he called Roger (Clemens)."
Clearly upset, even now, at what happened in the press conference, Eileen asked U.S District Judge Reggie Walton for a break to allow her to continue to tell her story. After she regained her composure, Eileen explained to the jury that she had just learned that there were some alarming findings in a routine blood test, and she wanted to inform Brian about them.
"Brian knew nothing about the situation, but he told Roger in the recorded conversation that our son was dying," Eileen testified. "He was not dying, but he [the son] heard that he was dying when he listened to the press conference and the recorded conversation."
Gently but firmly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Courtney Saleski continued to inquire about the press conference and its after effects, telling her, "I'm really sorry that I have to ask you a few questions about this." Then Saleski asked:
"Was it horrible?"
"Yes, it was."
"Were you mad, mad, mad at Brian and at Mr. Clemens?"
"Yes. I never thought my child would be in the middle of this."
"Did you tell Brian that you wanted him to go after Mr. Clemens?"
"Yes, I did. I didn't want Roger to get away with this."
Early the next morning after the press conference, Eileen said, Brian arrived at the family home (he had moved out earlier) to retrieve the physical evidence that he claims to have gathered after injecting Clemens with steroids.
A day later, the evidence was turned over to federal agents, and it has become the centerpiece of the prosecution's case against Clemens.
Would Clemens have been charged without the physical evidence? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is little doubt that without the physical evidence, the prosecutors here would have faced a difficult decision on whether to seek an indictment.
There is also little doubt that Clemens and his lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, one of America's great trial lawyers, learned a couple of things after the press conference. They learned enough that Eileen was in court as a witness for Clemens, offering a compelling and persuasive series of contradictions to Brian's testimony two weeks ago. Her testimony was part of a massive effort to destroy the credibility of Brian, an effort that seems to be succeeding.
Her testimony came after an apology from Hardin. In response to questions from Hardin on Thursday, Eileen said, "You told me that it was your decision to play the tape, and you apologized to me."
To further establish Eileen's veracity, Hardin then asked:
"Are you capable of testifying truthfully no matter how upset you are?"
"Have you testified truthfully even though you are helping a man (Clemens) you are upset with?"
"Yes, I have."
From the low point of the press conference with Clemens' abrupt departure and the playing of the recorded telephone conversation, the Clemens team has made remarkable progress. Instead of getting even with Clemens, Eileen McNamee has offered testimony for Clemens that could easily be conclusive in the jury's determination.