Gymnasts call on Senate to hold FBI accountable
Olympic gymnasts testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday, calling for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be held accountable in the handling of the Larry Nassar investigation.
The hearing was part of a congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable after multiple missteps in investigating sexual abuse allegations against the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, including the delays that allowed the now-imprisoned Nassar to abuse other young gymnasts.
At least 40 girls and women said they were molested after the FBI had been made aware of the allegations in 2015.
Simone Biles was among those who testified Wednesday, saying she does not want anyone else to experience the "horror" that she and others have endured.
"I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table, and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar’s guise of medical treatment, which we continue to endure today. We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, [USA Gymnastics] or the [United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee] did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed and we deserve answers," Biles said.
The Justice Department’s inspector general revealed in July that the FBI made "fundamental" errors in the investigation and did not treat the case with the "utmost seriousness."
The FBI has acknowledged its own conduct was inexcusable.
"I’m deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you. I’m sorry for what you and your families have been through. I’m sorry that so many different people let you down, over and over again. And I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed. And that is inexcusable. It never should have happened. And we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again," FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the hearing.
The watchdog report raised troubling questions about how the department and the FBI handled the case and it highlights major missteps at the FBI between the time the allegations were first reported and Nassar’s arrest.
The inspector general’s investigation was spurred by allegations that the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made in 2015 against Nassar. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own internal investigation and then the organization’s then-president, Stephen Penny, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it took months before the bureau opened a formal investigation.
At least 40 girls and women said they were molested over a 14-month period while the FBI was aware of other sexual abuse allegations involving Nassar. Officials at USA Gymnastics also contacted FBI officials in Los Angeles in May 2016 after eight months of inactivity from agents in Indianapolis.
The inspector general’s office found that "despite the extraordinarily serious nature" of the claims against Nassar, FBI officials in Indianapolis did not respond with the "utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required."
When they did respond, the report said, FBI officials made "numerous and fundamental errors" and also violated bureau policies.
Among the missteps was a failure to conduct any investigative activity until more than a month after a meeting with USA Gymnastics. Agents interviewed by phone one of three athletes, but never spoke with two other gymnasts despite being told they were available to meet.
The watchdog investigation also found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the matter came under scrutiny, officials there did not take any responsibility for the missteps and gave incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries to make it look like they had been diligent in their investigation.