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FBI’s failures in Larry Nassar probe on display as Senate hears testimony from top gymnasts

Sep 15, 2021, 8:22 AM

    (CNN) — The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing Wednesday from four elite gymnasts — Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman — who say they were abused by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who is now serving a several-decade prison sentence.

The hearing is examining how the FBI mishandled its investigation into the Nassar allegations, which were first brought to the agency in July 2015. Several violations of protocols led to months of delay, as captured in a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in July.

While the federal investigation languished, Nassar abused scores of victims, the inspector general report said.

FBI officials “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies,” the report stated.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin noted at the start of the hearing how athletic institutions had failed to protect the athletes from abuse.

“It shocks the conscience when those failures come from law enforcement itself,” Durbin said.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and FBI Director Chris Wray will also testify.

Nassar pleaded guilty in 2018 to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in a case brought by Michigan’s attorney general. He was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he had sexually abused them over the past two decades.

In recent weeks, an FBI agent accused in the inspector general’s report of failing to launch a proper investigation was fired by the FBI, US law enforcement officials told CNN.

Gymnasts willing to speak out

The gymnasts testifying Wednesday have all previously spoken publicly about being the victims of Nassar’s abuse. Nassar, who also worked for Michigan State University, touched athletes inappropriately under the guise of performing medical treatments on them.

Biles — a winner of seven Olympic medals, as well as several world and national championships — revealed this year that she was motivated to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in part because it would force the sport to confront its shortcomings in protecting its athletes.

“I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side,” Biles told NBC’s Hoda Kotb. “But since I’m still here, and I have quite a social media presence and platform, they have to do something.”

Raisman — who won Olympic medals in 2012 and 2016 — has also been vocal in criticizing how Nassar and others were allowed to get away with abusing gymnasts for so long, telling CNN’s “New Day” in March that “Monsters don’t thrive for decades without the help of people.”

Raisman, fellow Olympian Maroney and Nichols, who competed on the USA’s 2015 world championship team, all made public statements in the court proceedings against Nassar.

Nichols reported Nassar to US Gymnastics in 2015, alleging that his inappropriate touching started when she was 15 and that he also sent her Facebook messages complimenting her looks.

They will now be speaking to the Senate as lawmakers pressure the Justice Department to take more steps to address the lapses in its Nassar investigation.

Bipartisan anger on Capitol Hill

The appearance by Wray and Horowitz before the committee will be only the latest occasion the officials have been subjected to intense questioning on Capitol Hill. During President Donald Trump’s administration, Wray — who was confirmed as director in 2017 — repeatedly faced hostility from Republicans because of the FBI’s investigation into the campaign’s Russia links.

More recently, Democrats grilled Wray on the FBI’s lack of preparation for the January 6 US Capitol attack.

The anger over Nassar has united lawmakers of both parties, as investigating the FBI’s failings has bipartisan support.

“Every single person in authority who turned a blind eye to these young athletes’ allegations is complicit in Nassar’s crimes, and each one of them should be considered a predator,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will say in an opening statement Wednesday, according to excerpts from her remarks shared with CNN.

Lawmakers have also crossed the aisle in support of legislation that seeks to hold universities accountable for failing to protect students from sexual abuse.

Additionally, there is frustration that the Justice Department has declined to prosecute the two FBI officials singled out in the IG report for alleged false statements.

“We believe an explanation is owed to the athletes so grievously harmed and to the American public,” Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California, both Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, wrote in a recent letter to Justice Department leaders expressing their “deep concern” about the lack of prosecutions.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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FBI’s failures in Larry Nassar probe on display as Senate hears testimony from top gymnasts