The Government's Throwing the Book at Lance Armstrong

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After much speculation, the Justice Department pulled back the curtain on its plan to recoup some of the dozens of millions of dollars that the government spent sponsoring confessed cheater Lance Armstrong. The filing contends that Armstrong was "unjustly enriched" during his time on the United States Postal Service Team. What does that phrase mean? It means that the (very broke) USPS paid Armstrong $17 million between 1998 and 2004, nearly half the total amount of $40 million it paid to sponsor the team. Now, the government doesn't just want its $17 million back. It wants "triple damages assessed by the jury," the Associated Press reports.

Perhaps not so obviously, Armstrong and his army of lawyers aren't going down without a fight. This isn't so obvious because Armstrong very publicly — can't get more public than Oprah — confessed to doping during his cycling career in the face of overwhelming evidence that he juiced his way to the top. However, the Armstrong defense doesn't have to prove that the cyclist didn't dope. It just has to prove that the USPS wasn't damaged by the doping. The Justice Department, meanwhile, aims to base its case on the fact that it's against the rules of cycling to use performance-enhancing drugs, and Armstrong not only broke those rules, he tried to cover it all up.

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Armstrong attorney Elliot Peters expressed a pretty stern intent to push back against the lawsuit, which he says is "opportunistic and insincere." That's a funny choice of words. Some might argue that it was pretty "opportunistic and insincere" for Armstrong to take money form the U.S. government, some of which came out of your pocket, and spend it on illegal performance-enhancing drugs. It's also opportunistic to ride a government-funded sponsorship to the top, while lying about your success the entire time. What must Lance's pal Bill Clinton think about the old days picking up bikes on the White House lawn?

Peters takes it a stage further, casting the Armstrong defense as, well, kind of arrogant. Remember: People were very upset about Armstrong's confession. Arrogance and humility don't mix. "The U.S. Postal Service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship of the cycling team. Its own studies repeatedly and conclusively prove this," Peters said. This is where the arrogance kicks in, "The USPS was never the victim of fraud. Lance Armstrong rode his [steroid-filled] heart out for the USPS team, and gave the brand tremendous exposure during the sponsorship years." We added the phrase in brackets, in case you'd forgotten about the doping.

It's possible that Armstrong's defense is stretch a little thing. The Justice Department suit is one of many lawsuits that Armstrong's juggling at the moment, and the sum of them will take years to resolve. Meanwhile, now is a good opportunity to go back to that buzzed about confession on Oprah. That was supposed to be the real Lance, and he cleared things up. "The truth isn't out there," Armstrong told Oprah. "The truth isn't what I said."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.