NEW YORK - Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell has asked to start player interviews as part of his steroids probe and expects to complete his investigation in the "coming months."
On the eve of the first anniversary of his appointment, Mitchell said Thursday evidence-gathering has been slowed by legal issues.
"None of these obstacles will prevent me from completing the investigation, but they have affected the time required to do so," he said in a three-paragraph statement issued in response to questions posed by The Associated Press. "Other work remains, but I hope and expect that I will be able to complete the investigation in the coming months. No one wants to finish this investigation more than I do, and I am committed to completing the remaining work and to issuing my final report as soon as possible."
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced Mitchell's hiring on March 30, 2006. Mitchell's staff has been at spring training camps talking with management personnel; his investigators have not interviewed active players yet, union general counsel Michael Weiner said Thursday.
"In the course of our work, we have conducted hundreds of interviews of individuals with current or past connections to baseball, including many former players," Mitchell said. "I have just recently requested that interviews of current players begin promptly. This is one of the final phases of the investigation and obviously will be significant, especially since, as I have previously said, the principal victims of the illegal use of performance-enhancing substances by some players are the majority of players who don't use them."
Mitchell sent some players letters this year asking for waivers that would allow his staff to obtain certain medical records. Lawyers for the union have been negotiating an agreement on a centralized procedure that would allow him data, a person familiar with the talks said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. It remains unclear whether an agreement will be reached.
"At the time of my appointment, I made clear that there could be no firm timetable for completion of this investigation," Mitchell said. "Understandably, for some, gathering the information I have requested has been burdensome and time-consuming. In other instances, credible legal issues have been raised which we have worked hard to resolve."
Mitchell told baseball owners in January that he needed better cooperation from teams, and Selig said Mitchell has received it since then.
"I've had no complaints from anybody on any side," Selig said last week.
Union leader Donald Fehr has said during his spring training tour that each player will decide on his own whether to cooperate with Mitchell.
"We'll continue to talk with them as things arise, but I've got no other comment," Fehr said.
In his January statement, Mitchell said he was hampered by a lack of subpoena power and suggested Congress could become involved if he's stymied.
Selig said it's too early to tell when the report will be issued.
"We're plowing new ground," he said. "There was no way to know exactly what time limit you would have to put on it, and that's good. I don't know the answer to that, and I don't think the senator knows the answer to that."
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