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Star Gymnasts Will Appear at U.S. Senate Hearing on FBI’s Handling of Larry Nassar

While Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the United States women’s national gymnastics team, serves what amounts to a life sentence for sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes, questions have remained on how he continued to have access to vulnerable young women long after the the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office had learned of his crimes.

On Sept. 15, the U.S. Senate will begin a hearing to discuss the matter. Included in the first panel will be Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, as well as former collegiate gymnast Maggie Nichols, who all have gone on record saying Nassar sexually abused them. 

Federal Bureau of Investigation seal outside the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building in Washington, DC

The second panel will include Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, who handed down a 119-page report on the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case, which prompted the hearing. FBI Director Christopher Wray is also scheduled to testify.

When Did the FBI Learn About Nassar?

Back in 2015, the Indianapolis field office of the FBI had been told about possible sex abuse through a report by USA Gynmnastics which is headquartered in the same city. At the time, Nassar was employed by Michigan State University as well as Twistars USA Gymnastics Club in Lansing, Michigan, and it was determined the FBI should launch an investigation from there. However, it was not until 2016, after the Indianapolis Star reported on Nassar’s abuse, an investigation into the accusations moved forward.

Along with the failure to initially follow-through with investigating Nassar, Horowitz’s report also detailed the actions of Jay Abbott, the Indianapolis field office special agent in charge. Horowitz’s investigation details that Abbott lied repeatedly to the inspector general’s office when officials asked about Nassar. Instead, Abbott aimed to “…minimize errors made by the Indianapolis Field Office in connection with the handling of the Nassar allegations,” the report said.

Abbott, who retired in 2018, also violated FBI policy when he spoke with Steve Penny, the former president and chief executive of USA Gymnastics, about potential job opportunities with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). The report contends Abbott, who applied for a job at the USOC but did not get it, lied twice to the inspector general concerning employment discussions. 

USA Gymnastics cut ties with Nassar in 2015, but he was on staff at Michigan State University until August 2016. 

In November 2018, more than 100 victims came forward to provide face-to-face testimony about  Nassar at his sentencing hearing for multiple sex crimes.

Horowitz also noted that in civil court filings, about 70 women and girls were abused by Nassar between the time the FBI was first told of the allegations in July 2015 and when Michigan officials finally arrested him based on separate information in November 2016. 

After Horowitz’ findings were released, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called for the senate action to determine how Nassar’s abuse continued, well after authorities knew of his actions. “The FBI’s gross mishandling of the reports of Nasser’s abuse led to more athletes suffering unimaginable pain. There must be accountability for this chilling failure to properly investigate—and false statements potentially intended to cover-up that failure,” Blumenthal said.

Along with the Senate’s probe into the FBI’s actions, Nassar’s victims are working out a settlement with USA Gymnastics. Last month, the two sides filed a settlement proposal for $425-million. However, there is a concern that the insurers for USA Gymnastics and its parent organization U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), will not be willing to come up with funding.