DOJ May Join Whistleblower Case Aimed At Getting Sponsorship Money From Armstrong
U.S. Justice Department officials have "recommended joining a federal whistleblower lawsuit aimed at clawing back sponsorship money" from Lance Armstrong, according to sources cited by Albergotti & O'Connell of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Former cyclist Floyd Landis in the suit alleges that Armstrong and team managers "defrauded the U.S. government when they accepted money from the U.S. Postal Service." The "deadline for the Justice Department to join the suit is Thursday" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/15). In N.Y., Thompson & O'Keeffe report Armstrong is "in talks to return some of the millions of taxpayer dollars he received" from the USPS, which sponsored his team from '98-'04. The negotiations "may be an attempt to avoid criminal prosecution or prevent the government from joining the whistleblower suit filed" by Landis, who was stripped of his '06 Tour de France victory because of doping. Armstrong yesterday taped an interview with Oprah Winfrey where he reportedly confessed to doping, but not everyone in a group of close friends and advisers "thought the sit-down was a good idea." Sources said that some of his advisers "believe it will increase his liability in civil litigation beyond the whistleblower case" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/15).
TALKING THE TALK...: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Albergotti & O'Connell in a separate piece wrote under the header, "Behind Lance Armstrong's Decision To Talk." Armstrong's legal team had been "divided about a possible confession, with some expressing concern about its potential effect on continuing litigation." His team includes Robert Luskin and Patrick Slevin at Patton Boggs, John Keker and Elliot Peters at Keker & Van Nest, and lawyers from Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton. Armstrong also had been "regularly consulting Tim Herman." Currently, it is "unclear what kind of financial effect his problems are having" on Armstrong (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/15). CBS’ Jack Ford said, “You have to believe that there were some significant battles going on inside of his camp. Public relations people probably saying, ‘Look, you need to take control of this story, move forward. We’re a forgiving nation. If you want to be able do things and resurrect your image you have to apologize and get out there.’ But I got to believe that his lawyers were saying, ‘That’s a terrible idea,’ because legally you’re now going to be exposing yourself to all kinds of civil suits” (“CBS This Morning,” CBS, 1/15).
...WALKING THE WALK: Winfrey this morning said she would “choose not to characterize” whether she thought Armstrong was genuinely “contrite” during the interview, which will air Thursday and Friday on OWN. She said, “I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not. I felt that he was thoughtful. I thought that he was serious. I thought that he certainly had prepared himself for this moment. I would say that he met the moment" ("CBS This Morning," 1/15). In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes how people "do something is often as revealing as what you do," and Armstrong took a "deadly serious moment, an international news story, and made it into Hollywood." Dwyre: "The immediate reaction: Could this guy possibly handle things any worse? Is there not one person in his collection of advisors, lawyers and public relations people who could have made him understand what a mistake it was to take his story to Oprah's confessional?" Most people will "see through this, will understand that, at a time when transparency was needed, Armstrong's method was totally transparent" (L.A. TIMES, 1/15). FOXSPORTS.com's Greg Couch cited reports as saying that the confession was an "emotional moment." Couch: "I’m sure it was, with Armstrong and his handlers figuring out beforehand exactly when was the best moment for tears" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/15). In Austin, Cedric Golden wrote Armstrong "still craves the spotlight and will do what is best for Lance." And for those who "think he’s doing this for a higher purpose, pardon me while I giggle" (STATESMAN.com, 1/14). SPORTING NEWS' David Whitley wrote the confession was "a win-win." Winfrey's network will "get a ratings bump," while Armstrong will "look sympathetic enough to win back millions of admirers he duped all those years" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/14).
IT COULD BE WORSE: In N.Y., Claire Atkinson writes the "disgraced cyclist has been on a serious downhill run in the public’s opinion based on his latest Q Score." After his seventh Tour de France win in '05, just "11 percent of people viewed Armstrong negatively." That figure has "risen to 27 percent since he was accused of a sophisticated doping scheme, according to his September Q Score." The average sports star "has a negative score of 24 percent." Marketing Evaluations Exec VP Henry Schafer, whose company produces Q Scores, said, "He's going to have to do some heavy-duty mea culpas." Still, Atkinson notes Armstrong is viewed "less negatively than Tiger Woods, who has a negative score of 43 percent after his philandering" (N.Y. POST, 1/15). In Charlotte, Peter St. Onge writes, "The point of the whole Oprah confessional is that Armstrong needs something from us in return -- sympathy, support, or at least some form of public acceptance to rebuild on." But that "won't happen unless we think he's actually sorry" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/15). USA TODAY's Brent Schrotenboer writes it is the "public's reaction to Armstrong's apology that is critical to the cyclist" (USA TODAY, 1/15).
SAYING SORRY TO LIVESTRONG: In Austin, Suzanne Halliburton notes before he met with Winfrey, Armstrong "offered an apology, but few details, to about 100 Livestrong employees" during a 15-minute meeting at foundation HQs in East Austin (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 1/15).