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FBI Faces Senate’s Criticism for Inaction on Sexual Abuse of Olympic Gymnasts

September 16, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
FBI Faces Senate’s Criticism for Inaction on Sexual Abuse of Olympic Gymnasts
United States gymnasts from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General's report on the FBI's handling of the Larry Nassar investigation on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON — The sexual abuse perpetrated against female U.S. Olympic gymnasts by former team doctor Larry Nassar was exacerbated by inaction of the FBI, the athletes told a Senate panel Wednesday.

As a result, Nassar sexually abused at least 70 young women before he was caught and sentenced in 2018 to the equivalent of life in prison, the gymnasts said. He had been the doctor for the USA Gymnastics team for 18 years.

“They need to be held fully accountable,” seven-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles said.

She was talking about two FBI agents accused of downplaying early reports of Nassar’s abuse. She asked that they be criminally prosecuted.

”We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said.

One of the FBI agents accused of a lax response was a long-time supervisor in the Indianapolis office. He was fired by the agency.

The other FBI agent retired under a cloud of suspicion in 2018 as the Justice Department’s inspector general investigated the agency’s response.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said.

The inspector general’s report released in July showed it took the FBI more than a year to properly investigate the gymnasts’ allegations, following the first report from Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney.

She gave lurid details of how Nassar sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“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.

Her accusation of a falsified FBI report was largely supported by an investigation led by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

The inspector general said that not only did the FBI agents fail to check out the sexual abuse claims until more than a year later, they lied about their conduct to investigators afterward. The FBI supervisor in the Indianapolis office who wrote up a report of the interview with Maroney made fundamental errors, the inspector general said.

In addition, an FBI agent who was overseeing the investigation talked to USA Gymnastics officials about getting a security job with the Olympic Committee, the inspector general’s report said.

He did not get the job but when he was asked about it by inspector general investigators, he falsely denied applying for it, the report said.

FBI Director Christoper Wray made no effort to defend the former agents. Instead, he offered apologies and pledged that similar mistakes would not happen again.

“The actions and inactions of the FBI employees embodied in this report are totally unacceptable,” Wray said.

The FBI is implementing all of the inspector general’s recommendations, he said. The nation’s top law enforcement agency also is arranging a series of redundant checks to ensure reports of child and athletes’ sexual abuse are properly investigated, he said.

One part of the checks would include greater information-sharing by FBI agents, Wray said. 

“They need to make sure they are reporting to federal and state law enforcement on a parallel track,” he said.

Wray’s assurances of improvements did little to avoid the wrath of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Egregious failures like this do not emerge out of nowhere,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the committee’s chairman.

He added, “The FBI’s handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “This is a serious problem at the heart of the FBI.”

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