Now effectively serving a life sentence, former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of athletes. Four of his most elite survivors denounced the FBI’s inaction and alleged misconduct on Wednesday, in a Senate hearing dedicated to the bureau’s “dereliction of duty.”
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” a visibly emotional Simone Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, at one point wiping a tear from her eye.
Fellow gold medalists and Nassar survivors McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman also delivered statements on the scandal. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to spend up to 175 years behind bars by a Michigan judge who told him: “I just signed your death warrant.”
Chronicling her efforts to report abuse to the FBI, Maroney told Congress that agents falsified what she told them.
“This was very clear, cookie cutter pedophilia and abuse, and 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,” Maroney said.
Maroney also testified that an agent brushed off her report that Nassar abused her in Tokyo.
All spoke of their challenges in being victims of sexual abuse.
Asked whether she had any advice to survivors, Raisman replied: “The first thing that I would want to say to anybody that’s watching this, that’s suffering in silence or has been through something really traumatic, is that I support them. I believe them.”
Nassar had hundreds of victims, and his unraveling came in the wake of an Indianapolis Star investigation. The FBI learned about the allegations against Nassar some 15 months before the exposé but did not act, the Justice Department inspector general found this summer.
This inaction effectively allowed Nassar to sexually assault “70 or more young gymnasts,” the report found.
FBI director Christopher Wray and Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz are prepared to field questions from lawmakers.
In a prepared statement, Horowitz wrote: “Although the sexual abuses by Nassar, and the appallingly inadequate response by the FBI cannot be undone, these athletes’ commitment to justice and pursuit of accountability for all involved in this deeply tragic series of events will improve our institutions and help to ensure that federal law enforcement responds in an appropriate and timely way to reports of child sex abuse in the future.”
Just before the hearing, Raisman took to Twitter to express disappointment that Attorney General Merrick Garland and his Justice Department deputies would not be attending. Biles retweeted the sentiment. Both gymnasts have long been vocal about their experiences of abuse on social media.
On the cusp of Wednesday’s hearing, news broke that the FBI fired the supervisory special agent of its Indianapolis Field Office Michael Langeman, an agent accused of failing to properly investigate the Nassar case. The Justice Department’s inspector general report from July harshly rebuked that office in July.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) did not regard that timing as a coincidence.
“Only with this hearing staring the FBI in the face did they fire one of those FBI agents,” Blumenthal said. “There’s no question Larry Nassar was a monster, a horrific predator. He was not the only monster in gymnastics and gymnastics was not the only sport that had a monster. The IG report focused not only on the monsters, but the enablers, the institutions that failed you.”
The inspector general “found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the 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 violated multiple FBI policies when undertaking their investigative activity,” the 119-page report concluded.
According to the report, a senior FBI official sought a job as the U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Security Officer at the same time that he was overseeing the bureau’s investigation.
As summarized by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), “The inspector general findings in this July report paint a shocking picture of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence.”
The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, echoed those sentiments, stating that the FBI “severely let down dozens of teenage girls, several of whom bravely came forward in 2015 to report their abuse.”
The hearing lasted nearly five hours.
(Photo of Simone Biles via U.S. government screenshot; image of Larry Nassar via Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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