By: Joe Strupp
San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Lance Williams, who helped break the stories on Barry Bonds’ steroid use and co-authored a book on the subject, believes he will not be asked to testify in the latest grand jury investigation into whether Bonds lied to investigators in his previous testimony.
“I have not been subpoenaed and certainly don’t expect to be and wouldn’t be in a position to be of help if I were,” Williams told E&P Friday morning. “I think it is a bad idea to go in there for a reporter. It is just not our role – we take our confidential promise to our sources very seriously.”
Williams, who along with reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada broke the story of Bonds steroid use in a series of Chronicle stories published in 2004, also did not believe Bonds would be jailed if he is found guilty of perjury in this latest legal investigation. But he said, “I don’t know everything that they have.”
He said a fine and probation would be more likely, comparing the situation to basketball star Chris Webber’s 2002 conviction for lying to a grand jury probing a scandal at Webber’s alma mater, the University of Michigan. Webber also received probation and a fine.
“I think what they would like to prove is that you can’t lie to a grand jury without going through a lot as a result,” Williams explained. “Prison time is possible in a perjury case. But it depends on how the evidence lines up and what they want to do with it.”
Williams and Fainaru-Wada’s 2004 newspaper series, which also included revelations that other athletes used steroids, was based on leaked testimony from a 2003 grand jury investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO). Four convictions have arisen from that case, including those of BALCO owner Victor Conte and Bonds trainer Greg Anderson.
Williams said Bonds was the only athlete to testify in those proceedings who did not admit to taking steroids, saying he never knowingly used them. All of the witnesses in that grand jury were granted immunity from prosecution for any related crime, except perjury.
The Chronicle, Associated Press and CNN all reported late Thursday that a new grand jury had been empaneled to investigate whether Bonds committed perjury in his testimony before the 2003 grand jury. The Chronicle also broke the news that Bonds doctor was expected to testify.
“The Feds have never been satisfied with his answer,” Williams said about Bonds’ 2003 testimony. “We think that [the new grand jury] has [already] had other witnesses. There is a belief that [the doctor] has some insight into what happened.”
The latest grand jury activity comes less than a month after a book on the steroid scandal by Williams and Fainaru-Wada, titled “Game of Shadows” hit the shelves. The book also prompted Major League Baseball officials to launch their own investigation into steroid use, which is being headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine.
When asked if he believed his reporting helped spark the latest federal probe, Williams downplayed such talk. “I think the Feds work on their own motives and their own timeline,” he said. “I think they are going to do what they are going to do. I think our reporting occasionally gets an insight into what the Feds are up to and can report to readers, but I don’t think the feds are doing what they do because of us.”
In fact Williams said his and Fainaru-Wada’s reporting was more likely an annoyance for the investigators. “I think they would say it made it harder because we were publishing all of this information they were trying to keep secret,” he added. “On the other hand, we were keeping the topic alive — that might be a factor in all of this.”
Still, Williams did take credit for baseball’s latest probe, saying the league “wouldn’t have acted if it hadn’t been for the Chronicle stories and our book.”
Although no subpoenas have been sent to the Chronicle, the paper did receive an initial request for sourcing information from the local U.S. Attorney’s office in 2004, but responded with a letter denying the request. Editors have said no other demands for information or testimony have come forth.
“They haven’t come back to us,” Williams said Friday. “We believe and hope that the good the stories have done will outweigh in the government’s mind any issue they have with the secrecy in this particular case. We think they did so much good, we hope the government will recognize this and not pursue us.”
Williams said he would be surprised if he or Fainaru-Wada were asked to testify. “I don’t think they need my help in that regard,” he added. “I would be very reluctant to get involved because once you go in there, there is no control over what you can be asked.”
When asked if some kind of arrangement limiting testimony – similar to that used in some of the Valerie Plame investigation testimony from reporters – would change his mind, Williams remained reluctant. “I still think the reporters in the Plame case who found themselves in there were not happy about it,” he said.
Williams added that the grand jury probe will make this one of the most unusual baseball seasons yet, with a home run hitter facing federal charges while going after the all-time record. “You have never had this happen to a player who is chasing a record,” he said. “But he is a guy who can focus when there is a lot of chaos around him. Often he has played his best when the team is mad at him or fans are mad at him. We expect when it gets going he will have a good year.”