WASHINGTON (AP) — On the eve of Roger Clemens' 2008 congressional appearance, his lawyer warned federal agent Jeff Novitzky that if "he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch."
On Thursday, Novitzky testified before and after lunch in the Clemens perjury trial resulting from that appearance and never wavered despite an often testy exchange with the lawyer, Rusty Hardin. Novitzky is now a key witness as the government tries to prove that Clemens lied at that 2008 hearing when he denied using steroids or human growth hormone.
Hardin had said back in 2008 that it would be "brazen" and "unbelievable" if Novitzky, then a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, attended the hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That prompted a stinging letter from then-committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who said Hardin's comments could be interpreted as "an attempt to intimidate a federal law enforcement official in the performance of his official duties."
Hardin quickly said he regretted his words.
On Thursday, Novitzky sat about 20 feet from Clemens and methodically described the physical evidence he had collected from Clemens' former strength coach, which prosecutors hope will prove the former baseball pitcher did in fact use steroids and HGH. Novitzky, a tall man with a shaved head, deep voice and authoritative manner, spoke clearly and confidently, often making eye contact with the jury.
Jurors who had appeared well beyond boredom earlier in the trial were sitting up and attentive, taking notes while Novitzky related how he received the items from Clemens' former strength coach, Brian McNamee, on Jan. 10, 2008.
Novitzky has spearheaded other drugs-in-sports investigations, including those of baseball's Barry Bonds and star cyclist Lance Armstrong, first while working for the IRS and later at the Food and Drug Administration.
On the stand, he didn't directly connect the physical evidence to Clemens — that's expected to be attempted when the government presents results from a DNA analysis of the material. Clemens' lawyers have said they will contend that the evidence has been tainted and contaminated because it was stored so haphazardly.
When it came time for cross-examination, it was Hardin's Texas charm against a just-the-facts, straight-laced agent. Novitzky wouldn't give an inch unless the question was phrased in just the right way.
Hardin had to ask several times before he finally got Novitzky to concede that he had no firsthand knowledge of the chain of custody of pieces of evidence before receiving them from McNamee.
Hardin asked whether there was "anything at all" to connect Clemens with Kirk Radomski, the former New York Mets batboy Novitzky had investigated and who has admitted providing drugs to dozens of players.
"Yes," Novitzky said. "There was evidence that his personal trainer, Brian McNamee, was associated with Kirk Radomski." The evidence was checks written to Radomski from McNamee to pay for performance-enhancing drugs.
It wasn't the type of moment that could solely determine the outcome of the trial, but the government needed any momentum it could get after its big setback on Wednesday, when former Clemens teammate Andy Pettitte expressed doubt about his memory of a conversation in which Clemens supposedly admitted using HGH.
Novitzky, who in fact did attend that 2008 congressional hearing, will return to the stand Monday, when the trial resumes.
AP Sports Writer Joseph White contributed to this report.
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