By PETE YOST, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Lance Armstrong for taking performance-enhancing drugs, his legal problems seemed to be over. Now the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has weighed in with its own investigation of the seven-time Tour de France cycling champion, and Armstrong's supporters are turning to Capitol Hill for help.
On Tuesday, the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she met in June with the Lance Armstrong Foundation's CEO and its chief lobbyist to discuss domestic and international cancer care as well as the possible consequences to the foundation from the proceeding against Armstrong. As a Texas-based nonprofit, the foundation has had a longstanding relationship with Hutchison, a Texas Republican who is a member of the Senate Cancer Caucus.
In addition to the meeting with Hutchison, a Washington lobbyist representing the foundation spoke last week with the staff of Rep. Jose Serrano about the USADA and its pending allegations against Armstrong. The meeting was ''substantially if not all about USADA and concerns about the process that Lance Armstrong is being put through,'' said Serrano spokesman Philip Schmidt.
Targeting Serrano for such a meeting hits the anti-doping agency in a sensitive spot. Serrano is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, which oversees part of the agency's budget. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy provides $9 million a year to USADA, nearly two-thirds of its budget.
USADA is not without its own supporters in Washington. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says Congress authorized USADA to enforce anti-doping rules for athletes like Armstrong regardless of their public profile.
USADA had given Armstrong a deadline of last Saturday to either send the case against him to arbitration or accept sanctions from agency.
Armstrong's supporters have called the fairness of the arbitration process into question. McCain says USADA's arbitration process is the proper forum.
McCain's comments came the day after Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., questioned the fairness of the arbitration process in a letter to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
''USADA asserts that Lance Armstrong must either accept the sanctions it propose or contest the charges to an arbitration panel subject to USADA's rules where the burden of proof will rest on him,'' Sensenbrenner wrote.
USADA responded immediately.
''We will reach out to Congressman Sensenbrenner and offer to come in and discuss the process, which is the same in all cases whether it involves high profile athletes or those who are not,'' said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart.
If the arbitration process goes against Armstrong, USADA would probably ban him for life from cycling and other sports along with stripping the Tour titles Armstrong won from 1999-2005. USADA has granted Armstrong an extension of up to 30 days to contest the drug charges.
''People are concerned, we are very concerned and we have spoken publicly about the need for fairness and due process and we hope Lance is given the opportunity for the due process any American deserves in this respect,'' says Katherine McLane, the spokeswoman for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
The foundation has hired one of Washington's most venerable and powerful law and lobbying firms, Patton Boggs, to represent it.
''The foundation has worked with many firms in Washington over the course of the last decade to further the fight against cancer and we're pleased to partner with Patton Boggs on the important domestic policy issues that will have such an impact on cancer survivors and their families,'' said McLane.
USADA has long hired its own lobbyists in an effort to ensure a steady stream of congressional appropriations.
The foundation, which provides support for people affected by cancer, was founded in 1997 by Armstrong, a cancer survivor. The group's yellow ''LIVESTRONG'' wristbands are recognized around the world.