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Thursday, January 22, 2009

As George W. Bush leaves, so does pardon shot for Roger Clemens

There was no last-minute pardon for Roger Clemens before President Bush left the White House Tuesday, and the federal grand jury that has been examining evidence that the former Yankee star committed perjury will continue its work.

Brian McNamee's attorney Richard Emery raised the possibility of a Bush pardon after Clemens testified at the Feb. 13, 2008, congressional hearing on the Mitchell Report.

"We're glad neither Clemens nor Bush stooped to conquer," Emery said. "We hope by raising the issue we inoculated it and helped avoid it."

Emery said he raised the pardon issue because Republican members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform seemed eager to protect Clemens and attack McNamee during last year's hearing.

Clemens also brought up his friendship with former President George H.W. Bush during the hearing. Clemens testified that he was never contacted by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell or his investigators, but Bush Sr. tracked him down on a duck hunt to wish him well after the release of the explosive report on steroids and baseball.

Clemens' attorney Rusty Hardin has said he would not seek a pardon on behalf of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner. Hardin has steadfastly denied his client ever used performance-enhancing drugs, and has said innocent people don't ask for pardons.

"Richard Emery just has to quit smoking his own dope," Hardin said after Emery first raised the pardon issue.

Despite Clemens' ties to the Bush family, Washington insiders said in recent weeks that a pardon was unlikely.

One reason revolved around race. Barry Bonds' perjury trial is scheduled to begin in March in San Francisco. Olympic track star Marion Jones, who served a six-month prison sentence for lying to federal investigators and check fraud, unsuccessfully sought a pardon. Bush would have ignited angry protests if he intervened for Clemens but not for two prominent African-American athletes.

Bush made headlines when he commuted Scooter Libby's 30-month prison sentence in 2007, but the 43rd President was apparently not a fan of pardons. Bush may still be smarting from his Dec. 23 pardon of Isaac Toussie, who pleaded guilty in 2001 to lying to the feds to obtain mortgages for unqualified home buyers. Bush later revoked the pardon after the Daily News reported that Toussie's father had donated $28,500 to the Republican National Committee.

If Bush did get involved in the Clemens investigation, he would have raised questions about his own, albeit indirect, role in Major League Baseball's steroid scandal. Bush was the the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers when Jose Canseco claims he taught his teammates about performance-enhancing drugs.

Bush raised the steroid issue in his 2004 State of the Union address, when he called on sports leagues to crack down on drugs.

"The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message - that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character," Bush said.