WASHINGTON - A House committee is investigating whether Orioles star Rafael Palmeiro committed perjury in testifying March 17 that he never used steroids.

Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who chairs the House Government Reform Committee, told Palmeiro privately Tuesday night that the panel is duty-bound to investigate whether the ballplayer lied when he pointed a finger and told committee members: "I have never used steroids. Period."

The perjury investigation, just under way, was triggered by Monday's announcement that Palmeiro, 40, has tested positive for a steroid, later determined to be stanozolol.

While Palmeiro pledged to cooperate with the committee's investigation, the first baseman was in a widening rift last night with Major League Baseball over the handling of his case.

In a prepared statement that followed a Sun inquiry, Palmeiro's representatives said Palmeiro planned to soon tell his version of the story, and they accused baseball of violating confidentiality rules by disclosing specifics about his drug test.

Among the details that have leaked out is that Palmeiro tested positive in May - which meant he knew he was potentially in trouble as he chased his milestone 3,000th hit - and the identity of the banned substance detected in his system.

The stanozolol disclosure in particular seemed to undercut Palmeiro's suggestion that the steroid entered his body accidentally, experts said.

"He didn't take that by accident," Duke University pharmacology professor Cynthia Kuhn said yesterday. "I don't think you can even take stanozolol by accident."

The statement from the office of Arn Tellem, Palmeiro's agent, said: "The confidentiality rules that the arbitrator set in this case have been broken by MLB [Major League Baseball]. Rafael has respected the rules by not discussing the specifics, but unfortunately MLB has not done the same. What MLB has done is outrageous and it undermines the integrity of their drug testing program."

The statement asked fans to reserve judgment on Palmeiro until they have heard his entire explanation.

"There is another side to this story, and Raffy will tell it soon," it said. "I hope that the public will wait to make a final judgment about Rafael until they hear his story in its entirety."

The statement assumed leaks were coming from baseball - a presumption shared by some Capitol Hill staff. Asked yesterday about the stanozolol disclosure, Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said that he was not the source and that he didn't know who was.

At least one teammate of Palmeiro's expressed puzzlement yesterday about why the identity of the banned substance found its way into newspapers. "What were there, eight [players] who tested positive? Why is he the only one who had his result leaked to the press?" the veteran player asked. "I don't know how they got that information, and why don't we have it on the other guys?"

Levin said yesterday that he could not discuss Palmeiro's case.

It is known, however, that top baseball officials were chagrined at Palmeiro's explanation that his steroid use "was an accident" and was "not an intentional act on my part." Palmeiro suggested he must have ingested something - a supplement, vitamin or food product - that caused his test to come back positive.

Palmeiro's explanation has been ridiculed in some quarters. ESPN Radio has played clips of Palmeiro interspersed with cuts of President Bill Clinton declaring he did not have "sexual relations" with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Davis has said he just wants to get to the truth.

The committee chairman told Palmeiro on Tuesday that, while perjury cases are rarely brought against congressional witnesses, the panel was gathering information to determine whether Palmeiro lied, according to an official with knowledge of the conversation. The official requested anonymity because Davis is the panel's official voice.

The official said Davis told Palmeiro that there was no presumption of guilt "but that we have an obligation to look at this. He wanted Palmeiro to be clear about that. I don't think Raffy said too much."

A perjury finding would be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. Davis was in his Virginia district - Congress is in recess - and could not be reached for comment.

However, Davis told the Associated Press: "He was pretty adamant about the point he didn't do anything. He also remarked he didn't have a lot of time to enjoy his 3,000th hit. There was an allusion to that." As part of its inquiry, the panel has asked baseball to supply "the results of the drug tests, the date of the tests and other relevant information."

In a statement, Palmeiro pledged to cooperate. "I will provide them with any information they need and if he [Davis] or any other committee member has additional questions, I am ready and willing to answer each and every one of them," he said.

The committee's inquiry into Palmeiro and his drug test is open-ended. According to staff, its members aren't ruling out questioning him individually or holding a hearing that could also include executives of Major League Baseball and the players' union who are involved in the drug-testing review process.

Palmeiro, a potential Hall of Famer, was accused by former Texas Ranger teammate Jose Canseco in February of using steroids when the two played together in the early 1990s. Palmeiro denied the accusation.

Sun staff writers Dan Connolly and Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.