Everyone hates Lance Armstrong. If you want to pile on the guy, the timing has never been better. And that’s good news for the U.S. Department of Justice, which today joined a suit against Armstrong originally filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, alleging Armstrong defrauded the government through leading a doping program among U.S. cyclists (remember, the United States Postal Service served as Armstrong’s sponsor during his run of since-stripped Tour de France titles).
That the DOJ joined the suit isn’t a shock – the New York Daily News all but begged it to in this story on Landis’ lawsuit last month. But it is interesting, because this doesn’t represent the first time the Justice Department has been breathing down Armstrong’s neck. This story on today’s development in the Landis suit begins like this:
Lance Armstrong faces a powerful new adversary — the United States government.
…but the government isn’t really a new adversary of Armstrong’s. Sure, Armstrong hasn’t publicly sparred with it quite the way he has with the (non-governmental, though it receives federal funding) USADA, with which he still won’t cooperate, but the government itself has been on his case a while too. Jeff Novitzky of the FDA spearheaded a lengthy drug probe targeting Armstrong that began years ago, and a nearly-two-year investigation for possible crimes like defrauding of the government, drug trafficking, and money laundering was dropped early last year.
Now that Armstrong’s been stripped of his titles and admitted to doping, though, it’s a different ballgame. Earlier this month news broke that Armstrong was the subject of a federal investigation for obstruction, witness tampering, and intimidation. Combine that with today’s development in Landis’s suit, and suddenly the government’s never been hotter on Armstrong’s trail.
Whether or not that’s a good thing can be argued: back in 2010 Time questioned Novitzky’s drug probe. While obviously the “Did Lance dope?” question isn’t relevant anymore, if the government finally nails Armstrong now, it could be seen as validation of what the government, and Novitzky in particular – a man who might not be deserving of such validation – did all along (even if what really led the government to get on Armstrong’s back again was the man’s own doping admission).
No one will feel bad for Armstrong if he loses in court. By all accounts, he’s a mendacious, egomaniacal bully who treated people horribly and was never interested in anything so much as building up the legend of Lance Armstrong. But it’s worth asking: if it happens, would such an outcome more represent a triumph of good over evil, or a white whale finally being captured?
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