Congress now wants to investigate before steroid hearing

Demanding depositions from Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee and the other potential witnesses, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has taken its investigation of steroid abuse in baseball to a significantly more serious level. Instead of staging a couple of hours of political theater, House members are now pursuing a thorough inquiry.

The bipartisan decisions to postpone the hearing from Jan. 16 until Feb. 13 and to take sworn testimony from each witness in advance are clear indications that the committee will be digging deeply into the evidence gathered for the Mitchell report and other steroid-related investigations.

Clemens and the others will each now face two to three hours of interrogation from attorneys on the committee staff. Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch will be faced with questions that the players and their union have refused to answer until now. Although the players will have their own attorneys at their sides, the questions can, and likely will, go far beyond the material in the Mitchell report.

Although the players may try to avoid answering some of the questions, the committee will insist on answers. It is important to note that the decision to dig deeper came from both the committee's Democratic chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, and its ranking Republican member, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia.

In addition to deposing the witnesses, committee staff will be gathering other material. When the public hearing begins on Feb. 13, the lawmakers will be armed with potentially explosive evidence, which could make the McGwire-Sosa-Palmeiro hearings of March 2005 look like a friendly bull session. No depositions were taken in advance of that session.

Although baseball's union advised its players to refuse to cooperate
with former Sen. George Mitchell and his staff in their investigation, sources say the union will not be involved in representing
players in the House investigation, during either the depositions or the hearing. The
union's role is limited to matters relating to employment and does not include
any issue that may arise between Congress and a player.

Chicago lawyer Lester Munson, who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.