The letter Lance Armstrong received from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Wednesday says there are more than 10 witnesses who will testify he doped between 1998 and 2011.
But Armstrong's team is taking a chapter from Roger Clemens' narrative: Those unnamed witnesses supported a version of the truth they were forced to tell in order to receive some sort of immunity for their own transgressions. They could either say Armstrong doped, or they could be targeted for doping accusations supported by the testimony of Armstrong's former teammates and accusers, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton.
"We're focused on what we understand to be a corrupt bargain USADA made with other riders and said, essentially, 'Here's the script, and if you cooperate, you get a complete pass,'" said Robert Luskin, one of Armstrong's attorneys. "And if you refuse, we'll use Landis and Hamilton against you and you'll never ride again."
Luskin's argument is similar to the one Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, has made during the former major leaguer's ongoing federal perjury trial in Washington, D.C. Hardin told the jury that prosecutors and FDA investigator Jeff Novitzky coerced former trainer Brian McNamee into testifying to "their version" of the truth in their fervor to get Clemens.
Novitzky also was the lead investigator in the criminal investigation into Armstrong that was abandoned by the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles four months ago. USADA officials declined comment.
USADA, which oversees anti-doping for Olympic sports in the United States, informed Armstrong Wednesday that it will recommend charges against him for using and trafficking performance-enhancing drugs, charges that could strip
Armstrong of his titles and land him a lifetime ban from cycling and triathlons if found guilty. He already has been suspended by the World Triathlon Corporation pending resolution of the case. Armstrong has denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Luskin suggested that if Armstrong does not feel the process is fair, they will have to decide whether it is worth his time to continue fighting any charges that are eventually filed.
"It's just too early to speculate," he said. "He certainly would like to fight it; that's Lance's nature. The question is whether or not the process is going to be sufficiently fair and credible and give him an opportunity to prove his innocence that it makes sense to participate in it."
The next step in the process is an independent review panel, which will decide whether USADA may file formal charges against Armstrong.
Luskin sent USADA a letter Wednesday night demanding any laboratory or documentary records, and the names of the witnesses against him, in advance of the review panel hearing. Luskin said they are concerned with a specific USADA accusation that blood tests taken in 2009 and 2010 are "fully consistent with blood manipulation, including EPO use and/or blood transfusions."
"They refer to 2009, 2010 tests -- he passed them. If there's a document, share it," Luskin said Thursday. "If he doped over 14-, 16-year period, tell us when he doped and with whom. How do you reconcile that with never failing a test?"
Anti-doping officials say they do not generally provide such information before an athlete is charged, just as a criminal defendant doesn't know what evidence has been presented to a grand jury before he or she is indicted.
Such information would be provided before a trial before an arbitration panel, and Armstrong would have the right to cross-examine USADA witnesses and present his own.
In his letter to USADA, Luskin said: "The (independent review panel) cannot conceivably conduct a meaningful review and we cannot protect Mr. Armstrong's rights without knowing who is saying what about events that allegedly occurred over the course of a decade and a half. Even at this preliminary stage, your reliance on secret witnesses making deliberately vague charges is unconscionable. Your insistence on keeping the identity of your accusers and the details of their accusations a secret forecloses any possibility of meaningful review, and it appears that was your purpose."
The letter also states, "USADA and (the World Anti-Doping Agency) … have long demonstrated their zeal to crucify Mr. Armstrong and, in their relentless pursuit, have lost any semblance of independence, neutrality, or fair play. We have learned the hard way not to underestimate USADA's obsession with Mr. Armstrong, and you have not disappointed us."
Information from ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford was used in this report.