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Congress demands more information on Palmeiro

WASHINGTON—A congressional committee opened an investigation Wednesday into the steroid use of embattled baseball star Rafael Palmeiro, demanding that Major League Baseball turn over information about his drug tests.

The House Government Reform Committee, which conducted the March 17 hearing at which Palmeiro wagged his finger at lawmakers and emphatically denied under oath that he used steroids, intervened after its chairman, Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., spoke with the Baltimore Orioles first baseman Tuesday night.

"The Government Reform Committee today is requesting from Major League Baseball documents related to Rafael Palmeiro's suspension for a positive steroids test," Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the panel's ranking Democrat, said in a joint statement. "The committee is seeking the results of the drug tests, the date of the tests and other relevant information."

Major League Baseball had no immediate reaction.

Palmeiro, in a statement the committee released, said he was "ready and willing to answer each and every" question.

Major League Baseball suspended Palmeiro for 10 days Monday after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

With his seemingly effortless swing, even-tempered modesty and longevity in his sport_ he reached the majors in 1986—Palmeiro, 40, has long been regarded as one of baseball's good guys. He's one of only four players in major-league history to hit more than 500 home runs and 3,000 base hits.

His positive drug test was taken in May, weeks after his congressional testimony, which means he probably won't face perjury charges, several congressional and legal experts said. Still, the committee reportedly will look into whether Palmeiro lied under oath.

When news of his suspension became public Monday, Palmeiro, in a conference call with reporters, asserted that he hadn't lied to Congress when he denied ever having taken steroids, but this time added two conditional words to his denial:

"When I testified in front of Congress, I know that I was testifying under oath and I told the truth," he said. "Today I am telling the truth again, that I did not do this intentionally or knowingly."

Several news reports citing unnamed sources close to the investigation identified the drug Palmeiro took as Stanozolol, which is known under the brand name Winstrol. The drug was linked to Canadian Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his 100-meter gold medal in 1988. It isn't in diet supplements.

Palmeiro implied that the substance may have gotten into his body by his failure to be careful enough about diet supplements. However, he refrained from specific explanations, citing "confidentiality" terms governing baseball's drug-testing program.

Analysts note, however, that those terms are designed to protect the reputations of players involved in drug tests. Once Palmeiro was suspended for taking the drug, his rationale for invoking confidentiality was elusive.

Palmeiro's troubles took on political dimensions Monday when President Bush offered an unequivocal defense of the slugger, a friend from the early 1990s, when Bush owned the Texas Rangers and Palmeiro played for them.

"Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him,'' Bush said.

That could come back to haunt the president, who talked about steroid use in his 2004 State of the Union address.

"The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message—that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character," he said then. "So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and get rid of steroids now."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Palmeiro

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): Palmeiro

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