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Armstrong Wants Hearing On Feds’ Ties To Media

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NEW YORK (AP)  Lance Armstrong’s attorneys say illegal government leaks of grand jury information have sullied the cyclist’s reputation, and have asked a court to order federal agents to discuss their contacts with the media.

In a 20-page notice of alleged violations filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, lawyers for the seven-time Tour de France winner cited more than a dozen articles in many media outlets from May 2010 through last month about an ongoing grand jury investigation into whether Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs in violation of U.S. law.

The cyclist’s attorneys argue that only someone in the government could be responsible for the leaks, and a judge should order the government to explain why it should not be held in contempt. In a last resort, the lawyers said, the court could force journalists to reveal their sources.

“The leaker in this case has, from the beginning, acted with the obvious intent of legitimizing the government’s investigation of a national hero, best known for his role in the fight against cancer,” the court papers said. “Each leak has been designed to propagate public support for this investigation by smearing Armstrong and tarnishing his reputation. The tactical nature of these leaks cannot be ignored as it strongly suggests an underlying partisanship inherent in government agents.”

Armstrong’s lawyers accused The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and CBS’ “60 Minutes” of reporting illegally leaked information.

One of Armstrong’s lawyers, John W. Keker, attached a statement detailing 26 media reports that reported the alleged illegal leaks.

Responding to the notice, Lou Ferrara, AP’s managing editor for sports, said: “The AP has been aggressive in covering this important story. AP reporters will continue to pursue the truth. This action will not stop us.”

Filed by the same California-based lawyers who represented the Major League Baseball Players Association and succeeded in having the government’s seizure of player drug tests and records declared illegal, the request for an order to show cause asks a federal court to require that all agents involved in the probe provide sworn statements detailing their contacts with media.

The filing has 17 references to Jeff Novitzky, a Food and Drug Administration special agent who, in his prior job as an IRS special agent, ran the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO). That probe led to the seizure of the baseball drug list and the indictment of home run king Barry Bonds. A prosecutor, Doug Miller, is named in the filing but no other agent. Armstrong’s lawyers say the leaker was “potentially Novitzky himself.”

“The leading government advocate for the Armstrong investigation, Novitzky, was recently connected to an investigation riddled with leaks to some of the same reporters involved in this case and has a documented history of overreaching and disregarding individual’s privacy rights,” Armstrong’s lawyers wrote. “These circumstances are crying out for an investigation.”

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles whose office is running the grand jury probe into cycling, said the government received the filing late last week.

“The government will file its opposition brief consistent with the briefing schedule that will be set by the District Court,” he said in an email. “Therefore, we will not comment on the assertions made in the motion at this time.”

Federal statutes require details of grand jury investigations remain secret prior to an indictment and authorized disclosure in the run-up to or during a trial.

Armstrong’s lawyers asked the court to consider holding secret hearings to question the agents, and to contemplate requesting telephone records and emails of contacts between media and government members with access to grand jury information.

“A comparison between the phone records for these reporters with those of the case agents with access to confidential information would likely reveal the culprit,” the lawyers wrote. “If all else failed, the court could question under oath the individual reporters who were provided the leaked information and ask them to reveal their source(s).”

After grand jury testimony in the BALCO case was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams were both threatened by prosecutors with up to 18 months in prison for refusing to divulge the source. Troy Ellerman, a lawyer for BALCO vice president James Valente, admitted he was the source and pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal contempt, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of filing a false declaration. He served 16 months in prison.

The filing by the Armstrong comes in the wake of mistrials involving two other high-profile athletes charged with lying about alleged drug use. Novitzky was the lead case agent pursing Bonds, and Novitzky also had a role in the investigation of star pitcher Roger Clemens.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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