Unidentified federal prosecutors are reportedly weighing whether to charge disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong with obstruction of justice, witness tampering and intimidation.
ABC News reported that the seven-time Tour de France champion, who was stripped of his titles for having used performance-enhancing drugs for years, is in the federal cross hairs. The ABC report is in sharp contrast to comments from Andre Birotte, the United States Attorney for Los Angeles, that there would be no prosecution of Armstrong.
“Birotte does not speak for the federal government as a whole,” ABC quoted a “high-level source” as saying. The network said the source, who agreed to speak on condition that his name and position not be disclosed, said that, “Agents are actively investigating Armstrong for obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.”
ABC said the investigation of Armstrong is being handled by a DOJ office other than Birotte’s, but didn’t say which one. The report described Birotte as not “in the loop” on it.
A year ago, Birotte said there would be no prosecution of the cyclist, a decision that puzzled and dismayed some in his office, according to ABC. The decision not to prosecute came after Armstrong in court filings accused Birotte’s office of leaking information about the case to the media.
Birotte reiterated his stance during a press conference on Tuesday on an unrelated matter. He said Armstrong’s recent admission in an interview with Oprah Winfrey had not changed his view “at this time” about prosecution, according to a transcript cited by ABC. “Obviously, we’ll consider, we’ll continue to look at the situation, but that hasn’t changed our view as I stand here today,” Birotte said.
The comment by the “high-level official” could be read as a rebuke to Birotte, as well as a signal that Armstrong may indeed be in deep trouble with federal authorities. It appears, too, that Armstrong will not meet Wednesday’s deadline to tell all to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency if he wants the agency to lift the lifetime ban from cycling it imposed on him.
Armstrong previously had indicated via intermediaries that he didn’t want to confess his crimes unless the DOJ assured him he would not be prosecuted for perjury. It is not known what assurances he did or did not get, but he confessed anyway in the Winfrey interview.
Armstrong is also reportedly in discussions with the Justice Department over resolving a civil False Claims Act suit brought against him by former teammate Floyd Landis, who has accused him of defrauding his Tour de France sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, as Main Justice reported last month.
Since he was toppled from his cycling throne, Armstrong has suffered an unflattering image makeover. Former associates have become more bold in accusing him of threatening to use his lofty status to harm them in the world of cycling.
ESPN, in reporting on the ABC account, noted a big difference between Armstrong’s case and those of two former baseball stars who were accused of building their bodies with chemicals as well as weight machines: “Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who testified before a federal grand jury and Congress, respectively, and were accused of lying under oath, Armstrong was never questioned in front of a grand jury.”
Bonds was found guilty of giving false statements to Congress, while Clemens was acquitted. Both cases spurred debates over whether the time and expense of prosecuting them was worth it in the end.