Lawmakers say not enough evidence for perjury charges against Palmeiro

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON – Baseball star Rafael Palmeiro will not be prosecuted on perjury charges after lawmakers said Thursday there isn't enough evidence to prove he lied when he told a congressional panel under oath that he had “never used steroids” _ six weeks before failing a steroid test.

The investigation did not conclude whether Palmeiro, a former baseball standout at Mississippi State University, had actually ever used performance-enhancing substances.

“We couldn't find any evidence of steroid use prior to his testimony,” House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said in releasing a 44-page report. “That's not a finding of innocence, but it's a finding that we could not substantiate perjury.”

At issue was Palmeiro's statement at a House Government Reform Committee hearing March 17: “I have never used steroids. Period.” On May 4, he failed a Major League Baseball drug test, coming up positive for an anabolic steroid. In August, shortly after baseball suspended Palmeiro for 10 days, Davis said Congress would look into whether the player committed perjury.

“We have a responsibility, an obligation, to investigate it, and that's what we've done,” Davis said during a news conference in the same hearing room where Palmeiro had testified in March.

Davis said the steroid for which Palmeiro tested positive is detectable for three to four weeks, shorter than the gap between his failed test and Capitol Hill appearance.

“We were not concerned with why he tested positive or how he tested positive except for how that related to his testimony,” Davis added.

Palmeiro issued his first detailed public comments on the case Wednesday, including a possible explanation for why he might have failed a steroid test even though he says he never knowingly took steroids: a tainted vitamin shot given to him by a teammate.

The former Baltimore Orioles slugger is one of four players in baseball history with 500 homers and 3,000 hits _ and the timing of his positive test means Palmeiro knew he faced a suspension as he approached the hit milestone this summer.

“Nobody is more frustrated and disappointed in me than I am. … All my accomplishments are now tainted,” Palmeiro said Wednesday.

His case has been cited as one of the reasons that lawmakers have continued to pursue legislation to require tougher rules for steroid testing and harsher penalties for positive tests in baseball and other major professional sports leagues.

A bill calling for a half-season ban for a first steroid offense, a full-season ban for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third reached the floor of the Senate. But a spokesman for one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said Wednesday that an unidentified senator placed a hold on the bill, meaning it's stalled indefinitely.

According to Palmeiro's lawyers, he tested negative for steroids in 2003 and 2004; after he was informed he failed a test in May, he took a second test that month on his own _ not monitored by baseball _ which was negative.

“Every other item that might be to blame for Rafael's failed test _ from vitamins to protein drinks _ was tested, and no steroids were found. The only item that could not be tested _ and is therefore suspect _ was a vial of liquid, injectable vitamin B-12 which Rafael took in the middle of April 2005,” his lawyers wrote, noting the vial was thrown away.

“The B-12 was provided to Rafael by a teammate; it was labeled as B-12; and Rafael has always been convinced that his teammate absolutely believed it to be B-12.”

Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada has acknowledged he was that teammate; baseball absolved him of any wrongdoing.

Palmeiro, 41, had just two hits in 26 at-bats after returning from his suspension and was booed by spectators at Baltimore and on the road. He was sent home to Texas to rehabilitate injuries; the Orioles eventually told him not to return to the team.