Canseco will testify at congressional hearing but first seeks immunity

Friday, March 11, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Jose Canseco is willing to tell all before a congressional committee looking into steroids in baseball, but first he wants assurances he won't get in trouble for what he says.

Canseco asked Thursday for immunity if he's to testify fully, but a spokesman for the lawmaker who will chair the proceeding offered no promises. Canseco is among seven players summoned to appear at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee.

Another House panel on Thursday held the first of what it said could be a series of hearings on the subject, with several congressmen chastising baseball for what one called its "extremely weak" drug-testing program. The subcommittee chairman said all major U.S. sports leagues should work toward uniform steroid penalties.

Canseco, the 1988 AL MVP, has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and his best-selling book accuses several stars of steroid use.

"We've asked for immunity," said Canseco's lawyer, Robert Saunooke. "We hope they give it to us. We're still going to show up even if we have no immunity and offer whatever testimony we can that does not expose Jose to legal liability."

If immunity were granted, any prosecutor who wanted to charge Canseco would have to prove statements before Congress were not used as evidence. David Marin, a spokesman for committee chairman Tom Davis, said: "At this point, there are no plans to offer immunity to any witness."

The committee has issued subpoenas to the seven players and four other people. Baseball has said it will fight the subpoenas.

Whether they are granted immunity will be determined by Davis in consultation with others on the committee and the Justice Department.

"My interest has been piqued tremendously by the very defensive reaction of Major League Baseball. It's really outrageous," said Christopher Shays, the No. 2 Republican on the committee. "We're not trying to embarrass anyone, unless they embarrass themselves."

Henry Waxman, the committee's ranking Democrat, said he would not be opposed to immunity. He sees the hearing as a chance to find out about the role of steroids in the majors and to address the effect on young athletes, not to expose whether individual players used the drugs.

"With all the reports we've had in the past decade -- major league baseball has refused to investigate," Waxman said. "Now with the great interest in the subject because of Jose Canseco's book, and people who said they did and did not use steroids, it's brought things to a head.

"Major league baseball is taking an attitude that they don't want to know what happened or maybe they did know and they don't want anyone else to know."

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas are the other players subpoenaed. Some were in the process of hiring lawyers and deciding whether to act jointly or individually.

"If I'm going to talk about anything, I'm going to talk about myself," Giambi said in Tampa, Fla. "I'm not going to speak for anybody else or talk about anybody else."

McGwire's spokesman, Marc Altieri, said his client hasn't decided whether to appear. Thomas, at spring training in Arizona, said: "If it happens, I'll go. It's not a problem."

Also summoned were union head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, and San Diego general manager Kevin Towers. Fehr and Manfred will appear; Towers said Thursday he wasn't sure.

"I certainly hope the purpose of the hearings is as described, a real substantial purpose to it," Fehr said in Tampa. "I'm a little concerned about the way it has developed."

On Wednesday, baseball lawyer Stanley Brand said the committee had no jurisdiction and was interfering with a San Francisco federal grand jury investigation involving steroids. Davis and Waxman responded Thursday, sending Brand a letter stating "your legal analysis is flawed. ... Any failure to comply with the committee's subpoenas would be unwise and irresponsible."

"Baseball and ballplayers do not, by virtue of their celebrity, deserve special treatment or to be placed above the law," they wrote.

Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said the sport's officials were evaluating the letter.

No players were invited to Thursday's Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, where chairman Joe Barton said his panel might issue subpoenas for commissioners of the major sports leagues.

Barton said use of performance-enhancing drugs is tainting sports, noting that as San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds pursues the career home run record there are questions about whether he's been aided by steroids.

"With Babe Ruth, people didn't worry about him taking steroids. They worried about him eating another hot dog," Barton said.

Waxman said Bonds -- who wouldn't comment Thursday -- wasn't among the players asked to appear because "the feeling was that if he were invited, all the attention would go to Barry Bonds and would distract from the overall mission of the hearing."

In Fort Myers, Fla., six to 12 players on the World Series champion Boston Red Sox were tested for steroids Thursday. Players from several other teams already have been tested under the tougher program baseball and players agreed to in January under pressure from Congress. The agreement, which has not been finalized, calls for 10-day suspensions for first-time offenders.

"Your program is extremely weak," Cliff Stearns, chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, told baseball lawyer Frank Coonelly at Thursday's hearing. "Just now it's starting to get teeth in it. The only reason it's getting teeth on is because of prodding from the Congress or the public."

AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum in New York, Janie McCauley in Scottsdale, Ariz., Howard Ulman in Fort Myers, Fla., and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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