Sports

Star gymnasts say FBI mishandled Nassar case

WASHINGTON — Former Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman were among those to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning that current and former FBI agents should be held accountable for badly mishandling the bureau’s investigation into Larry Nassar, the disgraced former doctor for Team USA.

FBI agents failed to respond with the “seriousness and urgency” required after first hearing reports about Nassar’s abuse in the summer of 2015, according to a recent report published by the Department of Justice’s inspector general. The report found that agents mishandled evidence and later made false statements to investigators about the mistakes they made.

“It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us,” an emotional Biles told the Senate hearing Wednesday, adding that agents should be federally prosecuted to be held fully accountable. Biles was joined by multiple senators who questioned why the Department of Justice did not pursue criminal charges against the agents. The senators said a Justice Department official declined an invitation to answer questions directly during Wednesday’s hearing.

Raisman told the senators it took over 14 months for FBI agents to contact her after her initial report of Nassar’s sexual assaults to USA Gymnastics in June 2015. While the initial report provided to the FBI languished, Nassar continued to see patients for more than a year. Dozens of young women and girls say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar during that time period.

“Why would duly sworn officers ignore reports of abuse across state lines?” 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 brought Nassar’s behavior to the attention of USAG officials in June 2015.

“By not taking action from my report, they [the FBI] allowed a child molester 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 the public’s trust, adding “the kinds of fundamental errors that occurred in 2015 and 2016 should never have happened.” Wray told the senators that the bureau was revising its processes to make sure that a single point of failure could not derail an investigation in the future. He was not leading the FBI in 2015 when the bureau first received complaints about Nassar.

“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray told the gymnasts. “… I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster in 2015 and failed. It never should have happened. And we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”

In July, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a blistering report that condemned the actions of multiple FBI agents who worked 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 initial report about Nassar was made 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 MSU police accusing him of sexual assault during a medical exam.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday that the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case is a “stain on the bureau” and that the Nassar investigation suffered from “neglect, inaction and gross incompetence.” Durbin said agents “doctored paperwork and lied to the media in an effort to hide their dereliction of duty.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., went further, saying 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 that 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 supervisory special agent Michael Langeman, who had worked in the Indianapolis field office.

Langeman had interviewed Maroney in 2015 about Nassar’s sexual assaults during purported treatment sessions. According to the OIG report, Langeman failed to pursue Maroney’s allegations against Nassar and lied to investigators when asked about the failures of the Indianapolis field office to act in a timely manner, 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 charge in Indianapolis, who took the initial report about Nassar from former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny in July 2015.

While his field office was investigating allegations that Nassar had sexually assaulted some of the country’s most famous gymnasts during 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 retired from the FBI.

Investigators found Abbott showed “extremely poor judgement” in the relationship he developed with Penny, engaging in a clear conflict of interest and later “made false statements” to OIG investigators about applying for the security job with the USOC “despite clear evidence to the contrary.”

Abbott retired from the FBI in January 2018, one month after Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges.

In October 2018, Penny was charged with felony evidence tampering after he allegedly ordered the removal of documents from the well-known Karolyi Ranch near Huntsville, Texas. His case is pending. His attorneys have previously told ESPN that any assertion that Penny was trying to curry favor with Abbott by helping him find a post-retirement job with the USOC is “absurd.”

“The only favor that Steve wanted from Agent Abbott or anyone at the FBI was for them to promptly and thoroughly investigate Nassar,” the attorneys said.

Nassar remains in federal prison, where he is serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography charges that stem from material police found on his property in September 2016. He also pleaded guilty in 2018 to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan state court, which added as long as 175 years to his prison sentence.

Biles also called for officials from USAG and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to be held accountable. “This is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of American sport, and although there has been an independent investigation of the FBI’s handling of the case, neither USAG nor the USOPC have ever been made the subject of the same level of scrutiny,” Biles said.

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