Honestly I can’t say I’m totally surprised that the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong has been dropped. The reason for my lack of surprise? The investigation seemed to be dragging on and on. The burden of proof is much higher in these types of cases and while it was rumored that some of Armstrong’s teammates gave it up apparently there was no concrete evidence. The Boulder Report’s Joe Lindsey reported that Armstrong’s ex-teammate Yaroslav Popyvych just replied “nyet” during his two-hour grand juror testimony.
Another more “conspiracy theory” thought is that the fix was in and someone higher up with pull closed this investigation down. Armstrong knows people in high places.
Armstrong, the brand and person, has built up a considerable amount of goodwill. We all know about the LiveStrong Foundation, but not many realized there was a for profit arm of LiveStrong. In fact, few realized that LiveStrong.org has stopped donating money to research at all – and a significant amount goes to marketing. And to be clear, there’s nothing illegal about it – just self serving.
During the Armstrong investigation Barry Bonds and the infamous BALCO case came and went. The final result was Bonds was placed under house arrest for 30 days. Not an encouraging sign for Food and Drug investigator Jeff Novitzky as he was also the central investigator into what could have been the biggest cycling scandal in modern times. All that time and effort and it amounted to an adult “time out” for the baseball player.
If the case had continued and Armstrong was found guilty of fraud, seven Tour de France titles were on the line of being stripped, forcing a complete rewrite of cycling history. And looking at who was on the lower steps of the podium during the Armstrong era, how far down the general classification would the ASO have to go to find a clean winner?
Tyler Hamilton stepped forward and confessed on 60 Minutes to organized doping within the Postal Service team. Yet, nothing happened. Armstrong had by now employed Mark Fabiani, a former White House special council and now professional spin doctor for high-end clients in a fix or companies that need a crisis clean-up. Fabiani railed against Hamilton, Floyd Landis and everyone who dared to throw stones at the Armstrong myth.
Then suddenly the Feds pulled the plug on the criminal investigation. Charles Pelkey said that Novitzky wasn’t made aware of that decision until 30 minutes before the press release. However, Travis Tygert, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, issued a statement.
“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws. Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
A phone call and text message to Mr. Tygert asking about what USADA’s next move might be weren’t answered.
So what does this mean? The Feds were conducting a criminal investigation of Armstrong under the RICO act. USADA investigates for doping in sports. Two different things. While the Feds have a dossier of information it cannot be used by USADA and is sealed forever. If anything does get leaked the person who leaked it can go to jail.
However, as I was about to post this article John Fahey, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), issued a statement.
“A large amount of the evidence gathered is likely to be highly pertinent to doping and WADA expects that this evidence will be shared with relevant anti-doping authorities for them to determine whether any breaches of the anti-doping rules have occurred.”
My gut feeling is that this is posturing to save face. Sure WADA can ask for the evidence, but again, I’ve been told by a lawyer that the evidence is sealed.
So while Tygert says that his organization is continuing to investigate they are facing an uphill battle. USADA has limited funds and they don’t have the legal pull to compel anyone to say anything.
For Landis a couple of things can occur. Allegedly Landis has his own legal suit against Armstrong asking for damages. Think O.J. Simpson. The football player was found not guilty but taken to civil court by the Goldman family where the burden of proof is lower. Armstrong could possibly try to settle with Landis rather than go to court and see his ex-teammates subpenaed and forced to publicly testify. There’s no sealed grand jury to protect them. Or Landis could throw his hands up and walk away from this whole thing.
My personal take on the situation is that the Feds could no longer fight this battle due to political pressure. Releasing the statement late Friday, days before the Super Bowl, promised to push it to the back of the sport pages and by Super Bowl Sunday it’s a distant memory for 99.9% of the population. Also, Fabiani and his partner Chris Lehane worked in the White House and as @RaceRadio stated on Twitter, “worked daily with with Clinton’s lawyer Lanny Breur who is now head of the Fed’s criminal division.” That’s an interesting six-degrees of separation.
I also find it interesting that Armstrong has been deafeningly silent about the conclusion of the case on Twitter – his social media platform of choice when he wants to gloat about something. Did his team of lawyers get a hold of him and confiscate his iPhone to prevent him from saying something damaging?
Many of you have a firm opinion about Armstrong – he’s guilty as sin or he’s a persecuted man. I won’t try to convince you one way or the other. But this will continue and the Lance Armstrong legacy is still not in the clear.