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Lance Williams on Barry Bonds
Posted on Dec 7, 2007
By James Harris
The “Game of Shadows” co-author shares his thoughts on Barry Bonds’ legal woes, the impact of steroids on sports and how Nancy Pelosi helped to keep him (Williams) out of jail.
Listen to this interview.
James Harris: Extra, extra! Read all about it! Baseball’s home run king was charged last week [Nov. 15] with obstruction of justice and perjury. He will stand trial Dec. 7, 2007. This is Truthdig. James Harris with Lance Williams, San Francisco Chronicle writer and co-author of “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports,” and that book title is secret coding for “I broke the Barry Bonds story.” Lance, how are you doing today?
Lance Williams: Happy to be here.
Harris: Well, Lance, I know you’ve been over there waiting to exhale. You yourself faced jail time for not responding to a subpoena that called for you to “out” your source, the source that gave you the information that led to the indictment of Barry Bonds. And since we’re not having this conversation through glass, I assume the government backed off. Why did they back off, and why aren’t you in jail?
Williams: The government says that it did an independent investigation and independently identified the person who leaked the information. We’ve never been able to [unintelligible] on them, whether they got the right guy, whether this guy or that guy was the source. The somewhat longer version is that Congress has changed hands and Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales started getting letters from members of both the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress saying, “Why are you going after these guys in a story about baseball?” And I really feel that after he got the letter from the new speaker of the House, he rethought the thing and decided to do an independent investigation. That’s my opinion.
Harris: So that was Nancy Pelosi that wrote that letter?
Williams: Yeah. We went back. Mark [reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of the book] and I went back three times to Washington to lobby on behalf of a shield law for whistle-blowers and journalists to keep the federal government from trying to drag reporters and their sources before grand juries because it’s really bad for the country to do that. We’re going to lose independent sources of information about what our government is doing if they’re allowed to do that. And it was in that context that we met—oh, golly, everybody we met from Mike Pence [House member, R-Ind.] on the right to the new speaker and the new chair of the House Judiciary, Congressman Conyers [John Conyers, D-Mich.] and we got nine or 10 letters out of that on our behalf as well as support for the shield law. And I do feel—I don’t mean to be a reductionist here—but I really do feel that the government’s interest in resolving the case without throwing us in prison amped way up after they found out that prominent lawmakers thought that what the Justice Department was doing was nuts.
Harris: Do you feel at all like you prevented justice from being served by not outing your source?
Williams: I don’t think so. I think maybe a source of ours violated a court order, but I don’t think there’s any law about writing a true story in the newspaper. Perhaps Attorney General Gonzales would’ve liked to have had such a law on the books.
Harris: So there is no law prohibiting a reporter from publishing leaked testimony. ...
Harris: ... or any type of testimony.
Williams: No, that’s not our system. You can come after reporters and so forth and you can come after the press, but you can’t restrain it, and you can’t criminalize it. That’s just not consistent with the First Amendment which our founders gave us.
Harris: I agree. You guys have avoided jail, and now Bonds seems to be the guy again.
Williams: Now it’s somebody else’s turn in the barrel. My heart goes out to anybody who has the federal government with their gun sights on you. So it’s a tough time for the home run king now.
Harris: But do you really feel bad for the home run king? He has not been a friend to the media. Not at all.
Williams: I feel bad for anybody who’s in that predicament of being under indictment or scrutiny of the federal government, just because it’s very intense. It’s a human reaction on my part. Bonds could’ve avoided all of this trouble if he had testified truthfully in front of the grand jury that was investigating the BALCO case. Most of the athletes who went in there—and there were more than 30 of them—went in and admitted what they were doing and if you admitted it, you didn’t get into any trouble. They were given immunity from prosecution because the government hoped to use them in trial as witnesses against the dope dealers, who ultimately pleaded guilty, so there was no trial. But that was the dynamic there. Bonds—and it’s understandable because it’s embarrassing—didn’t want to admit that he had used banned drugs. But now my advice, for anybody if you’re ever faced with being questioned by the federal law enforcement: either don’t talk to them, or tell them the truth, because the third alternative is really bad. They get mad when you don’t tell them the truth, and here we go: This is the fourth athlete in the BALCO case to be brought up on charges of lying about their drug use.
Harris: Now who are the others?
Williams: Sure. The most prominent is Marion Jones, the star of the Sydney Olympics. Five medals there in 2000. She pleaded guilty last month to lying to a BALCO investigator about her use of banned drugs. Then there’s an elite track coach, Trevor Graham, and a bicycle racer called Tammy Thomas. Both are accused, also, of lying to the feds, either the grand jury or the investigators, in this big investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
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