WASHINGTON – Former Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman were among those who told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning that current and former FBI agents should be held accountable for misuse of the agency’s investigation into Larry Nassar, the disgraced former Team USA doctor.
FBI agents failed to respond with the “seriousness and urgency” required after the first hearing of reports of Nassar’s abuse in the summer of 2015, according to a recent report released by the Justice Department inspector general. The report found that agents mishandled evidence and later made false statements to investigators about the mistakes they made.
“It really feels like the FBI has turned a blind eye to us,” an emotional Biles told the Senate on Wednesday, adding that agents should be punished too federally for being held fully accountable. Biles was joined by several senators who questioned why the Justice Department did not pursue criminal charges against the agents. Senators said a Justice Department official declined an invitation to answer questions directly during Wednesday’s hearing.
Raisman told senators it took over 14 months for FBI agents to contact her after her first report of Nassar’s sexual assault on US Gymnastics in June 2015. While the first report given to the FBI disappeared, Nassar continued to watch patients for more than a year. Dozens of young women and girls say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar during this period.
“Why would duly sworn officers ignore reports of abuse across state borders?” Raisman asked senators Wednesday.
Biles and Raisman testified along with former Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney and former world and NCAA champion Maggie Nichols, who first alerted U.S. officials to Nassar’s behavior in June 2015.
“By not acting from my report, they [the FBI] allowed a child abuser to go free for more than a year. They had legal evidence of child abuse and did nothing, ”Maroney testified Wednesday.
The four gymnasts, all of whom say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar during their time with the national team, appeared before the Senate committee along with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also testified Wednesday.
Wray acknowledged that agents violated public confidence, adding “the kind of fundamental flaws that occurred in 2015 and 2016 should never have happened.” Wray told senators the agency revised its processes to ensure a single point of error could not derail a study in the future. He did not head the FBI in 2015 when the agency first received complaints about Nassar.
“I’m deeply and deeply saddened,” Wray told the gymnasts. “… I’m especially sorry that there were people in the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster in 2015 and failed. It should never have happened. And we’re doing everything we could to make sure that it will never happen again. “
In July, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a blistering report condemning the actions of several FBI agents working on the Nassar case. OIG investigators estimate that as many as 70 girls and young women were sexually assaulted by Nassar from July 2015, when the first report on Nassar was sent to the FBI field office in Indianapolis, to September 2016, when Nassar was fired by his full-time employer, Michigan State University, after a police report was filed with the MSU police, accusing him of sexual assault during a medical examination.
Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Said Wednesday that the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case is a “stain on the agency,” and that the Nassar investigation suffered from “negligence, inaction, and gross incompetence.” Durbin said agents “doctored paperwork and lied to the media in an attempt to hide their neglect.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Went on to say that FBI agents engaged in a “cover-up” by making “material false statements” to OIG investigators.
“The FBI’s failure to act had real human consequences, and it will forever be a stain on the FBI’s reputation,” Blumenthal said.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post first reported that the FBI had fired former surveillance agent Michael Langeman, who had worked in Indianapolis’ field office.
Langeman had interviewed Maroney in 2015 about Nassar’s sexual assault during alleged treatment. According to the OIG report, Langeman failed to pursue Maroney’s allegations against Nassar and lied to investigators when asked if Indianapolis’ field office had no timely action, the Post reported.
“They chose to falsify my report and minimize my abuse,” Maroney told the Senate hearing Wednesday.
Much of the criticism in the Inspector General’s July report was directed at Langeman’s boss, W. Jay Abbott, the former special agent in Indianapolis who took the first report on Nassar from former U.S. Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny in July 2015.
While his field office investigated allegations that Nassar had sexually assaulted some of the country’s most famous gymnasts under medical appointments, Justice Department investigators found Abbott met privately with Penny, not to discuss the investigation, but rather to discuss a possible job. The two men met at a bar in Indianapolis in October 2015, three months after Penny first provided the FBI with information about Nassar, to discuss a potential job for Abbott as a security officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee after he withdrew from the FBI. .
Investigators found that Abbott showed “extremely poor judgment” in the relationship he developed with Penny, participated in a clear conflict of interest and later “made false statements” to OIG investigators applying for the security job at the USOC “despite clear evidence of it. opposite . “
Abbott withdrew from the FBI in January 2018, a month after Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges.
In October 2018, Penny was charged with tampering with crimes after he allegedly ordered the removal of documents from the well-known Karolyi Ranch near Huntsville, Texas. His case is pending. His lawyers have previously told ESPN that any claim that Penny was trying to cure Abbott’s favor by helping him find a job after retiring from the USOC is “absurd.”
“The only advantage Steve wanted from Agent Abbott or anyone in the FBI was that they should quickly and thoroughly investigate Nassar,” the lawyers said.
Nassar remains in federal prison, where he is serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography stemming from material police found on his property in September 2016. He also pleaded guilty in 2018 to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. in Michigan State Court, which added as much as 175 years to his prison sentence.
Biles also called for officials from the USAG and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to be held accountable. “This is the largest case of sexual abuse in U.S. sports history, and although there has been an independent investigation into the FBI’s handling of the case, neither USAG nor USOPC have ever been subjected to the same degree of control,” Biles said.