A congressional committee, seeking to determine whether Rafael Palmeiro lied six months ago when he testified that he never used steroids, has been interviewing major league players who know the Orioles first baseman, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The House Government Reform Committee has spoken to several active players who have relationships with Palmeiro and might be able to shed light on whether Palmeiro testified truthfully March 17.

Among those interviewed was Colorado Rockies outfielder Jorge Piedra, who has worked out with Palmeiro and who tested positive for steroids in April and - like Palmeiro - was suspended for 10 days, one source said. The source declined to be named because the committee's investigation is ongoing. A second source confirmed that the panel has spoken to Piedra.

Palmeiro was among a handful of current and former players who appeared before the committee in March. He sat at the witness table with retired slugger Jose Canseco, whose book released in February accused Palmeiro and others of using steroids when they played together for the Texas Rangers during the 1990s. In his testimony, Palmeiro said: "I have never used steroids. Period."

But Palmeiro later tested positive for a steroid and served a 10-day suspension beginning Aug. 1.

Ever since, the committee has had the difficult task of, in effect, going back in time and determining whether the ballplayer had knowingly used the drug at the time he appeared before Congress.

The committee has not decided whether or not to refer the matter to the Justice Department for a perjury investigation. The panel says, however, that its inquiry is nearly complete.

The committee first sought - through media accounts and investigation - to identify players who have relationships with Palmeiro. Piedra was a natural to interview because he has trained with Palmeiro and because Piedra has tested positive for a steroid.

The Associated Press first reported last night that the committee was interviewing players.

Piedra was the second player - after Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez - to be publicly identified under baseball's tougher steroid rules that went into effect this year.

People familiar with the committee's investigation declined to directly say whether Palmeiro has been interviewed. One source, though, said it was logical to assume the first baseman had indeed spoken with the panel.

The committee received records related to Palmeiro's case Aug. 12. Palmeiro agreed to cooperate with the probe.

The documents include the results of Palmeiro's drug tests, the date of the tests and a record of secret proceedings before an arbitration panel to which Palmeiro had appealed the results of his positive test.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com