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Sosa likely to skate on any perjury charge

Congress is going to investigate Sammy Sosa for perjury:

A congressional committee will look into former baseball slugger Sammy Sosa’s denial that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs in light of a report that he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, says that the committee takes seriously suggestions that a witness had been misleading.

Towns said in a statement Wednesday that he will determine the appropriate steps following a review of the matter.

Given Tuesday’s news, there is no question that Sammy was, at the very least, being cute with Congress during his 2005 testimony. That said, I don’t think anything will come of this and don’t expect that Sosa will ultimately be charged.

Why? Because Sammy never appeared to have actually said that he didn’t do steroids. He said “To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” He said “I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean.” Those statements -- and many others he made during his testimony -- allow for the possibility that he used substances that were legal in the Dominican Republic that would have been illegal to use in the United States.

I know that such a distinction is going to make a lot of you mad, but federal perjury law is really, really, clear in holding that responses to questions made under oath that relay truthful information in and of themselves, but that are intended to mislead or evade the examiner cannot be prosecuted. Instead, the criminal-justice system requires that the questioner -- in this case Congress -- diligently followup on such answers and suss out the misleading nature of the response themselves. A relatively non-technical summary of that law can be found here. And yes, it’s an unpopular law in some circles, but it is the law, and there are several good reasons for it being as it is.

I don’t know what Sammy Sosa took, when, and where. But neither does Congress, and they didn’t try to obtain that information in 2005 even though they were presented with an opportunity to do so. And believe me, there were lawyers all over that hearing room, and you can bet that many of them were aware of the implications of Sosa’s carefully-phrased statements that day. If they wanted to nail him for perjury, they should have nailed him down then.

But they didn’t, and because of that, I think he skates.