The ability of the federal government to put an individual in peril of the law is virtually unlimited. Congress can force a celebrity to testify on matters that are of no material interest to the nation’s legislature. If the individual refuses to play along with the morality play narrative desired by the politicians who seize the spotlight, they can be charged with obstruction of justice or perjury and then paraded before a federal court and jailed. But sometimes the egregious nature of this charade is so great that the process is exposed as a sham. That is what happened on Monday when the Justice Department’s second attempt to imprison former baseball great Roger Clemens collapsed as he was acquitted on all six counts relating to his testimony before Congress on steroid use.
The Clemens farce was perhaps the worst example of a series of recent federal prosecutions of celebrities, including a few relating to steroids. As was the case with Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and John Edwards, the only reason Clemens found himself in the crosshairs of the government was because he was rich and personally unpopular, a formula that has always presented an irresistible target to prosecutors. The case against Clemens was particularly flimsy, a point that was amply demonstrated last summer when the first attempt to try him ended in a mistrial. It was obvious then that the only sensible course was to abandon the prosecution, but instead, the Justice Department doubled down on the insanity, and the result was another go round that took nine full weeks and wasted millions more of the people’s money. But the problem here isn’t just that they failed, but that there was no real underlying crime in question, rendering the entire exercise an embarrassment.