US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI
Star U.S. gymnasts offered stark criticism Wednesday of the FBI’s handling of its investigation into sexual assault and harassment in the U.S. gymnastics program, prompting criticism from lawmakers of the Department of Justice.
“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Olympic medalist Simone Biles, widely considered the greatest U.S. gymnast of all time, said during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The entire day of testimony was a difficult one for the FBI, which fired one agent involved with the investigation a week before the hearing.
“I want to begin by saying to the brave women who testified this morning … I’m deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in his own testimony.
“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,” Wray said.
The hearing comes several months after the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a report detailing the failures of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office while responding to allegations against disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to prison in 2018.
The report found that FBI agents failed to follow up on allegations against Nassar, and made false and misleading statements in documents and in describing their actions to the inspector general.
“In reviewing the OG’s report, it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect [USA Gymnastics] and [the U.S. Olympic Committee],” Biles said.
Some of Wednesday’s most stirring testimony came from McKayla Maroney, who gave graphic details of her treatment by Nassar, and cast the FBI agents who handled her case as indifferent. She told lawmakers those agents should be indicted, and that she was shocked in reading the inspector general report to learn that the FBI “lied” about what she told investigators in 2015.
“To not indict these agents is a disservice to me and my teammates, a disservice to the system which is built to protect all of us from abuse,” she said.
Aly Raisman, a third Olympic gold medalist who testified Wednesday, said the FBI pressured her to consent to a plea deal for Nassar, and said the agency diminished the seriousness of her case.
“The agent diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel my criminal case wasn’t worth pursuing,” Raisman said.
Collegiate gymnast Maggie Nichols, who also testified Wednesday and is referred to in the report as “Gymnast 2,” says the report raised more questions than answers.
“The survivors of Larry Nasasr have a right to know why your well-being was placed in the jeopardy by these individuals who chose not to do their jobs,” Nichols said.
Lawmakers on opposite sides of the political spectrum expressed repugnance at what they heard and deep disappointment with the Department of Justice and FBI.
“It is shameful that the FBI was very slow to respond,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called out the lack of urgency on the agency’s part to handle the case.
“What am I missing here?” Durbin asked. “This man is on the loose molesting children, and it appears that it’s being lost in the paperwork of the agency!”
Asked about accountability, Raisman called for a “complete and full independent investigation” of the FBI’s interactions with USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and for changes within each of the governing bodies.
Biles, adding to Raisman’s remarks, said, “We also want to see them at least being federally prosecuted to the fullest extent because they need to be held accountable.”
Besides apologizing to Nassar’s victims during his opening remarks, Wray stressed that the actions detailed in the report are not reflective of the 37,000-person workforce of the FBI.
“It’s my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail,” Wray said.