WASHINGTON, D.C. ─ Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) has criticized the ongoing federal probe into seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and allegations of doping.
Kingston made the comments on Friday during a House subcommittee hearing on budgeting for the Food and Drug Administration.
That agency’s division of criminal investigation is the employer of agent Jeff Novitzky, who handled the BALCO steroid scandal that rocked baseball and athletics and who is now looking into doping allegations leveled against Armstrong.
Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis, who last year admitted to having doped throughout his career, said Armstrong and others routinely used banned substances.
Armstrong has steadfastly denied the claims.
“If he has broken the law, then that is a serious matter,” Rep. Kingston said. “But it almost appears to me that there’s a little adventurism going on here; that Mr. Novitsky is operating on his own.
“I would like to know how much has been spent on this investigation and why so much has been spent.”
Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, said her agency is looking into Novitzky’s investigation and would provide information on how much the probe is costing.
“I believe millions have been spent, lots of time, and I would like to know what priority that is in the food chain,” Kingston said. “What I’m very concerned about, and I hope that I’m proven wrong, but (I think it is) that because it’s a celebrity, and one great way to make a name for yourself in this town and in politics is to bring down a celebrity.
“I really believe this is one man’s tear, maybe a personal issue and I’m not sure where the balance is.”
Kingston praised Armstrong as an American sports hero.
“This is an icon who revolutionized bike riding and brought it home to so many Americans,” he said. “This is a huge icon that your agency is trying to take down ─ and maybe it should, I’m not saying you’re wrong on this.
“But you’re really going after somebody whose name is synonymous with health.”
Broader than the FDA
Hamburg said that the agency has been monitoring the investigation and Novitzky’s work on the case. But while Kingston’s questions in Friday’s hearing were targeted at the FDA’s criminal division, sources close to the case told VeloNews that the investigation now involves several federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and both the civil and criminal divisions of the Department of Justice.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller continues to head the Department of Justice team working with the Armstrong grand jury in the Central District of California, while also attending to earlier work from his case file. Fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Williams has been assigned full-time to the doping case. Novitzky has recently shifted his attention away from the Armstrong investigation to the upcoming trial of former San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, who was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice after telling a grand jury in the BALCO case that he never knowingly took steroids. His trial begins on March 21st in San Francisco.
Despite Novitzky’s return to BALCO-related matters, other FDA staff are moving the Armstrong case forward, with witnesses having been interviewed as recently as this past week.
Armstrong has enlisted the services of some of the country’s best civil and criminal attorneys since the grand jury was originally empaneled last summer. Part of that effort is being coordinated by former White House special counsel Mark Fabiani.
Grand juries are generally authorized for a term of 18 months. In especially complex cases, such as those involving charges of fraud or money laundering, a federal court may extend that period by another six months.
Senior editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this report