Women from the Michigan based victim advocacy groups End Violent Encounters and Firecracker Foundation cheer for women as they leave the courthouse after the sentencing of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar in Ingham County Circuit Court on January 24, 2018 in Lansing, Michigan. The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexual assault after more than 150 women and girls confronted him in court and spoke of their abuse. (Photo by Anthony Lanzilote/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Olympic gold medalists including Simone Biles and Aly Raisman on Wednesday detailed for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee the failure of the FBI to investigate dozens of complaints of sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar, the disgraced team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a former Michigan State University physician.
The gymnasts also urged senators to investigate the institutions that enabled the abuse.
Biles, one of the most decorated gymnasts in history, outlined how the FBI, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee turned a “blind eye” to the sexual abuse that Nassar carried out with hundreds of young athletes.
“I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said.
He is currently serving a 40-to-175-year sentence in prison after more than 150 women and girls said he sexually abused them. Michigan State was fined $4.5 million by the federal government over its handling of Nassar and his crimes after investigators found Michigan State didn’t adequately respond to complaints about him.
Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that Michigan State officials’ refusal to voluntarily to waive privilege to thousands of documents involving Nassar meant her own inquiry was closed.
Wednesday’s hearing came after an inspector general report in July found that the FBI botched its investigation into allegations of Nassar’s sexual abuse by falsifying witness statements, failing to contact possible victims of abuse and delaying its investigation for nearly 15 months after USA Gymnastics first reported allegations to the agency’s Indianapolis field office in 2015.
“As our report further details, Larry Nassar’s abuses very well could and should have been stopped sooner, if appropriate action had been taken by the FBI in response to the courageous actions of these athletes,” Michael E. Horowitz, the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice, said in his opening statement.
“Not only did that not occur, but after the FBI agents’ inadequate and incompetent response came to light, FBI records were created that falsely summarized the testimony of an athlete who had spent hours detailing the abuses she endured, and inaccurately described the FBI’s handling of the matter.”
More than 70 young women would be molested after the FBI was alerted of the situation.
A formal investigation by the FBI was only started after the Indianapolis Star published an investigative story in September 2016 reporting the abuse gymnasts faced by Nassar, who at the time worked as a physician at Michigan State after retiring from USA Gymnastics.
The IG report also found that an unnamed special agent overseeing the investigation and W. Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office, lied to the inspector general’s office multiple times when asked about the Indianapolis field office’s investigation into Nassar in order “to minimize errors made by the Indianapolis Field Office in connection with the handling of the Nassar allegations.”
The report also found that Abbott would meet with Steve Penny, who at the time was the president and chief executive of USA Gymnastics, about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee, while the FBI was currently investigating allegations into Nassar.
Maggie Nichols of Minnesota, a World Artistic Gymnastics Championship gold medalist, said that she, along with countless other survivors, do not understand how no one from the FBI, USA Gymnastics of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has faced federal charges.
“For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice,” she said. “We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), said that a separate report by a panel on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), and Jerry Moran, (R-Kansas), “concluded that the US Olympic Committee and the USA Gymnastics knowingly concealed abuse by Nassar between the summer of 2015 and September of 2016.”
“Make no mistake, egregious failures like this one do not arise out of nowhere,” Durbin said. “They are enabled by systematic organizational failures of training, supervision, hiring and promotion.”
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FBI director Christopher Wray also testified at the hearing and apologized to the gymnasts for the FBI’s handling of the investigation. Wray became the FBI director in 2017.
“We need to remember the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their job,” he said, adding that the agency has implemented new training programs to ensure that the failure is not repeated.
Durbin, who scolded the FBI in his opening statement for the agency’s “gross failures,” also expressed his frustration at the Justice Department for its refusal to prosecute Abbott and the unnamed special agent overseeing the investigation.
“The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau,” Durbin said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on Judiciary, asked the gymnasts what other investigations the Senate should undertake.
“First of all, it’s not enough just to commend you for your bravery of speaking out, but by your speaking out, you’re helping out not only young women, but wherever there might be the abuse you talk about,” he said. “But thank you for coming forward.”
Raisman, an Olympic gold medalist, said that an independent investigation into USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and the FBI is needed in order to understand “how and why USAG and USOPC chose to ignore abuse for decades and why the interplay among these three organizations led the FBI to willingly disregard our reports of abuse.”
“I and these women who sit before you now know firsthand these organizations and their public statements are not to be trusted,” she said.
“Without knowing who knew what when, we cannot identify all enablers or determine whether they still are in positions of power. We just can’t fix a problem we don’t understand—and we can’t understand the problem unless and until we have all the facts.”
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