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Criminal Justice & Legal System

"I don't have a good explanation" - FBI director on agency's mishandling of Nassar case

Larry Nassar at Eaton County sentencing
Emma Winowiecki
/
Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio file photo of Larry Nassar

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday, examining the Federal Bureau of Investigation's mishandling of its investigation into former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar.

This comes after a report from the Office of the Inspector General. The OIG's report, issued in July, details the FBI's mishandling of its investigation into Larry Nassar.

Get an inside look at how a team of women won justice in one of the largest serial sexual abuse cases in U.S. history.

"According to civil court documents, approximately 70 or more young athletes were allegedly sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment between July 2015, when USA Gymnastics first reported allegations about Nassar to the Indianapolis Field Office, and September 2016," the report reads. Nassar saw many of those victims in Michigan, where he worked at Michigan State University and worked with athletes in the Lansing area.

U.S. national gymnastics team gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman testified at the hearing. All four athletes recounted sharing their experiences of abuse at the hands of Nassar with FBI agents, and the lack of support and communication that ensued.

"According to the OIG report, about 14 months after I disclosed my abuse to the FBI, nearly a year and a half later, the FBI agent who interviewed me in 2015 decided to write down my statement, a statement that the OIG report determined to be materially false. Let's be honest, by not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year in this inaction, directly allowed Nassar's abuse to continue. What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?" Maroney asked.

Raisman said the FBI's negligence directly led to more athletes, especially in Michigan, experiencing abuse.

"They quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, knowingly allowing him to continue his 'work' at MSU, Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club, and even run for school board," Raisman said. "It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter."

Nichols echoed the sentiment, saying that her family was told an investigation was ongoing, and not to speak about it to avoid compromising the investigation.

"We now know there was no investigation occurring. Not only did the FBI fail to conduct a thorough investigation, but they also knew that USA and the USOPC created a false narrative where Larry Nassar was allowed to retire with his reputation intact and returned to Michigan State University, thus allowing dozens of little girls to be molested," she said.

Raisman said she's met some of those athletes who experienced abuse in that 14 month period where the Indianapolis field office knew of the abuse and when Nassar's abuse became public knowledge.

"I can't tell you how horrifying it is to meet young girls who look up to me, who watched me compete in the Olympics, and tell me they went to see Nassar because of me and my teammates, because they wanted to see the Olympic doctor," she said.

She said the guilt she feels about hearing these stories has been a huge part of her recovery.

"It takes everything I have to work on not taking the blame for that, because it's horrific. It's horrible to meet them and to know that over 100 victims could have been spared the abuse if all we needed was one adult to do the right thing."

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who took over the agency in 2017, as well as Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who authored the report, testified after the athletes.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Wray how abuse as extensive as Nassar's managed to get lost in the agency's paperwork.

"I don't have a good explanation for you. It is utterly jarring to me, it is totally inconsistent with what we train our people on, totally inconsistent with what I see from the hundreds of agents who work these cases every day," Wray replied. "And that's why that individual has been fired."

Wray said the OIG report had informed a lot of changes made by the FBI, and that they had strived to implement every single one of the recommendations.

"Part of what's built in is a bunch of double and triple, even quadruple checks to make sure that that doesn't happen, both in terms of how the initial reports are handled, the appropriate urgency there, but also in terms of communication," Wray said. "One of the important recommendations from Inspector General Horowitz's is reporting to state local law enforcement, as well as communications between field office transfers between field offices."

Simone Biles said that after years of dealing with the effects of Nassar's abuse, and being kept in the dark by the systems that were supposed to protect her, she hopes that those who enabled Nassar will finally face consequences.

"In reviewing the OIG report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help 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," she said.

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