NEW YORK - Major league baseball responded with outrage to congressional subpoenas for Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and other top stars, vowing to fight them all the way to court.
Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas also were summoned Wednesday to testify at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee. Also called were players' association head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson and San Diego general manager Kevin Towers.
The committee, which has no interest in hearing from Barry Bonds, also demanded a variety of documents and records of baseball's drug tests.
Stanley Brand, a lawyer for the baseball commissioner's office, said the committee had no jurisdiction and was interfering with the federal grand jury by trying to force testimony from Giambi and others. He said the committee wanted to violate baseball's first amendment privacy rights and was attempting to "satisfy their prurient interest into who may and may not have engaged in this activity."
"The audacity, the legal audacity of subpoenaing someone who's been a grand jury witness before there's been a trial in the case in California is just an absolutely excessive and unprecedented misuse of congressional power," Brand said.
"Not even the Iran-contra committee attempted to do that, and when it did, it tainted irreparably the prosecutions that came out of that investigation. Now if that's what Congress wants to do to advance what it says is the public interest in combating a very serious problem that baseball has confronted, then in my judgment they've torn loose from their legislative moorings and they're marauding in an area of the law that has very serious consequences for the judicial system."
Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, declined comment.
Canseco, Fehr and Manfred have agreed to testify, with Manfred speaking on behalf of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Before the subpoenas were issued, Brand told the committee the other players were declining invitations to appear. Thomas said Monday that he would testify.
It remained unclear whether the hearing will take place as scheduled.
"It's impossible to predict the exact course that this is going to take," Manfred said. "Players have individual decisions they're going to have to make, the union has decisions it's going to have to make."
David Marin, a spokesman for committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, said the committee has no plans to contact Bonds, who also testified before the grand jury.
Bob Cohen, McGwire's agent, questioned "what's the ultimate purpose of the hearings?"
Brand and Manfred said baseball will attempt to fight the subpoenas. If they are not complied with, the committee could vote contempt citations, which would have to be approved by the full House of Representatives and certified by a U.S. Attorney. If that happened, Brand said the fight over the subpoenas would head to U.S. District Court.
"It is important the American people know the facts on baseball's steroid scandal," Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat, said in a statement. Davis and Waxman said. "Consistent with our committee's jurisdiction over the nation's drug policy, we need to better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps - and the public health danger posed by steroid use - is reaching America's youth."
Marin maintained the committee had proper jurisdiction over steroids and baseball.
"We can't fathom that they will advocate noncompliance with a congressional subpoena," he said. "What kind of message does that send?"
Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte was indicted last year on charges of distributing illegal steroids that eventually made their way to as many as 30 baseball, football and track and field stars. Also indicted were Greg Anderson, Bonds' weight trainer; James Valente, BALCO's vice president; and Remy Korechemny, a track coach.
A trial date has not been set, and Brand said testimony from players would be "whipping up a torrent of pretrail publicity."
Another congressional hearing on steroids is scheduled for Thursday, when the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is to hear from witnesses, including labor lawyers from the commissioner's office and the NFL, and representatives of the NCAA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, chairman of the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee, said Selig was invited to speak at the hearing but declined.
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