Olympic gymnasts blast FBI, USA Gymnastics for enabling Nassar sex abuse
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.
Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI's mishandling of the investigation.
Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as "more of a pedophile" than he was a doctor.
It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/21-093.pdf what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.
"Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said," Maroney said, with anger in her voice.
Wednesday's hearing comes after the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/21-093.pdf which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-justice-watchdog-release-report-into-fbi-probe-ex-usa-gymnastics-doctor-2021-07-14 in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.
Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.
"I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad," Raisman said.
"It's taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter."
Horowitz will also testify on Wednesday as will FBI Director Chris Wray, who is expected to face sharp bipartisan questioning about why the agents who botched the probe were never prosecuted for their misconduct.
"It is not only that the FBI failed to do its job, systematically and repeatedly. It is also the cover-up - the cover-up that occurred when FBI agents made materially false statements and deceptive omissions," Senator Richard Blumenthal said, adding that the Justice Department has declined to prosecute the agents.
The FBI's investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI's Indianapolis field office.
That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a "302" until February 2017 - well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.
When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with "materially false information and omitted material information," Horowitz's report determined.
Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI's conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday's hearing, Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.
"Yes," all four of them said.
Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.
"We have been failed and we deserve answers," Biles said on Wednesday.
Raisman, meanwhile, expressed frustrations that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for covering up Nassar's abuse for years.
"Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar's abuse, long before it became public," she said.
"We have called for a fully independent, factual investigation for years now, because these women who sit before you now know firsthand these organizations and their public statements are not to be trusted."
Spokespeople for both organizations could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.