Lance Armstrong
By David Baumann | July 20, 2011 4:31 pm

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong accused Justice Department officials of attempting to ruin his legacy and asked a federal judge in Los Angeles to determine who leaked information from the grand jury investigating whether he used performance enhancing drugs.

In a motion unsealed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Armstrong’s attorney, John W. Keker, said he found “repeated and obvious violations of the secrecy rules governing grand juries.”

“Someone in this district with regular access to grand jury information is routinely flouting the law requiring grand jury secrecy,” Keker, the star trial lawyer of Keker & Van Nest, said.

Even if Armstrong is exonerated and never charged, the leaks guarantee that his reputation will be “permanently damaged,” he said.

“The leaks seem more like a public relations campaign to portray Armstrong as having violated cycling rules during European competitions, and an attempt to justify why the government should even pursue a criminal investigation,” “he said.

Armstrong asked the judge to examine the phone records of Justice Department officials and reporters to determine who may have leaked the information. He also raised the possibility of asking the court to order the journalists who wrote stories about the allegations to disclose their sources—a request that is certain to be fought by the news organizations involved.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California declined comment on the allegations. “The government has received the motion filed late last week and the government will file its opposition brief consistent with the briefing schedule that will be set by the District Court,” he said, in an e-mail response. “Therefore, we will not comment on the assertions made in the motion at this time.”

This dramatic development is the latest salvo in Armstrong’s attempt to salvage his reputation amid repeated reports that he cheated throughout his career.  For much of his career, Armstrong, a survivor of testicular cancer, was viewed as a hero. While he has announced his retirement as a competitor, he is a high-profile fund raiser for cancer research and established his own foundation to help fight the disease.

But the continued drumbeat of allegations appears to be damaging Armstrong’s commercial value, as well as his reputation. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Armstrong’s commercial value has dropped, according to a marketing poll of 1,000 people that measures an athlete’s overall appeal. Armstrong’s score had declined from 775 in 2005 to 179 as of June 10, the newspaper reported.

Until now, Armstrong’s attorneys have been waging a public relations battle in order to refute the allegations.

The motion, filed last week, takes the battle to a new forum. Keker said that leaks from the grand jury “have rendered what should have been a closed investigation into a field day for reporters with access to the leaks, and an easy forum for whoever seeks to damage Armstrong’s reputation.”

Citing stories from several news organizations, the attorney said the leaked information included identities of witnesses, the alleged substance of the testimony, the strategy of the investigation, potential charges, the timing of a possible indictment and documents relating to the probe.

The leaks began in May 2010, according to the court documents, when the New York Times published a story citing “two people briefed on the investigation.” They continued this year and culminated in a “60 Minutes” segment which featured details of the probe and allegations by Tyler Hamilton, a former Armstrong teammate, who said the bicyclist had failed a drug test in 2001 and that a deal was made to hide the results.

The story also featured details from former teammate George Hincapie, who, according to “60 Minutes,” had testified before the grand jury about Armstrong’s drug use. Hincapie later issued a statement saying that he had never spoken to CBS News.

The leaks, according to Keker, are “eerily reminiscent” of a previous investigation into performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball and that Jeff Novitzky, a Food and Drug Administration investigator, participated in both probes.

Prosecutors in the Central District of California have also come under fire in recent cases. Earlier this year, a federal judge blasted prosecutors in a foreign bribery case against Lindsey Manufacturing for failing to turn over documents. A judge last year criticized prosecutors and dismissed charges relating to stock fraud allegations.

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