U.S. Gymnasts Testify That the FBI Mishandled the Nassar Case

In July, the Justice Department released a report from the Inspector General which outlined the FBI’s mishandling of the case against former Team USA and USA Gymnastics doctor and convicted sex offender, Larry Nassar. The report found that the FBI had failed to act on allegations about Nassar in 2015.

“From July 2015—when the allegations were first reported to the FBI—to September 2016, Nassar continued to treat gymnasts at Michigan State University, a high school in Michigan, and a gymnastics club in Michigan,” the Inspector General’s report said. “Ultimately the investigations determined that Nassar had engaged in sexual assaults of over 100 victims and possessed thousands of images of child pornography, led to his convictions in federal and state court, and resulted in Nassar being sentenced to incarceration for over 100 years.”

On Wednesday, former elite gymnasts testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to share their dismay at the FBI’s failings and urge Congress to investigate connected organizations.

In her opening statement, decorated Olympian, Simone Biles, shared about her abuse by Nassar stating, “I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that lead to my abuse and allowed it to continue are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete—USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee—failed to do their jobs. I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during, and continuing to this day, in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse,” her voice breaking with emotion.

Biles and other victims are advocating for an independent investigation of USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame and entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse. This is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of American sport, and although there has been a fully independent investigation of the FBI’s handling of the case, neither USAG nor USOPC have ever been made the subject of the same level of scrutiny.”

Biles advised, “In reviewing the OIG’s report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to protect USAG and USOPC. A message needs to be sent—if you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough.”

Among other findings, the Inspector General’s report found that in the fall of 2015, Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office, approached Steve Penny, the USA Gymnastics official who had brought the allegations about Nassar to his attention, about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee. 

The report mentioned that Penny raised concerns with Abbott about how the FBI’s investigation might look for USA Gymnastics and that Abbott reassured Penny that his statements would put the organization in a positive light. “At the same time, Abbott was aware that Penny appeared willing to put in a good word on Abbott’s behalf,” the report said. Abbott went on to apply for a job in 2017 but was denied.

The report also found that Abbot had instructed the FBI to release a false statement to reporters in early 2017 saying his office had “expeditiously responded” to allegations about Nassar.

The report determined that Abbott violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy and that his office made false statements during two interviews with the inspector general by claiming it communicated with FBI agents in Detroit and Los Angeles about the allegations.

Former Olympian, McKayla Maroney, shared her experience of reporting her abuse at the hands of Nassar over the phone to an agent at the FBI in the Summer of 2015.

“I remember sitting on my bedroom floor for nearly three hours as I told them what had happened to me. I hadn’t even told my own mother about these facts, but I thought as uncomfortable and as hard as it was to tell my story, I was gonna make a difference.”

In her statement, Maroney recounted in detail her interactions with the FBI and the severity of her abuse by Nassar. “This is important because I told the FBI all of this and they chose to falsify my report, and to not only minimize my abuse, but silence me yet again.”

She further shared about the FBI’s delay in reporting her account of the crime, “I thought given the severity of this situation that they would act quickly for the sake of protecting other girls, but instead it took them 14 months to report anything.”

Olympian and Nassar victim, Aly Raisman, further remarked about the culture of USA Gymnastics and United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, “They claim they want accountability, but then seek to restrict which staff can be interviewed, which documents can be examined, and claim attorney-client privilege over and over again.”

Raisman continued to advocate for an independent investigation of USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, “Just as it is naïve to assume the problem only rests with Nassar, it is unrealistic to think we grasp the full extent of culpability without understanding 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.”

The Inspector General’s report concluded, “The Office of Inspector General found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the Lawrence Gerard Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and failed to notify state or local authorities of the allegations or take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was not leading the agency during the original investigation, testified before the committee. He remarked that the FBI would be considering recommendations of Inspector General, Michael Horwitz and confirmed the agent who failed to investigate allegations was fired.

On a second panel with the inspector general, Wray apologized for the FBI’s failings. “That is inexcusable. That never should have happened, and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again,” Wray remarked. “I’d like to make a promise to the women who appeared here today and to all survivors of abuse. I am not interested in simply addressing this wrong and moving on. It’s my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.” 

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, replied to Wray’s remarks stating that lawmakers will not be satisfied by “platitudes and vague promises about improved performance.”

“If this monster was able to continue harming these women and girls after his victims first went to the FBI, how many other abusers have escaped justice?” Cornyn asked.