Sports/Games

Survivors ask Barr, Congress to order Justice Department to release report on FBI handling of Nassar case

More than 120 women who were sexually abused by former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics national team physician Larry Nassar Wednesday asked Congress and Attorney General William Barr to order the release of a report on the Department of Justice Office Inspector General office’s investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the Nassar case.

The women made the request in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate judiciary and commerce committees, Barr and Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, came on the fifth anniversary of USA Gymnastics officials first being alerted of allegations that Nassar was sexually abusing young gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.

“It is important for our healing for all the facts to come out and for wrongdoers to be held accountable,” the women write in the letter. “It is also important to maintain public confidence in our federal law enforcement agencies by exposing the truth and initiating reforms so that this never happens again.”

Between August and October 2018, Office of Inspector General investigators and FBI agents from local field offices interviewed Olympic champions Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber, and  Maggie Nichols, a 2015 World champion, and their parents about the FBI’s investigation of Nassar, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Southern California News Group.

The Justice Department, however, still has not released the OIG report on the FBI’s role in the Nassar scandal a year and a half after the OIG official leading the investigation told parties in the case that the investigators’ report had been forwarded to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. Two federal prosecutors in the PIS also confirmed they had received the report nearly a year ago, an attorney involved in the case said.

“My clients were interviewed almost two years ago,” said John Manly, an attorney for the survivors. “Where is the report? The FBI has never answered to Congress. (Former FBI director) James Comey has never answered a question. But we’re damn well going to get the answer.”

The survivors letter follows a June 2 letter by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to Horowitz that also called for the release of the OIG report. Cornyn wrote in the letter that he was “deeply concerned about evidence of the FBI’s lack of urgency” in investigating allegations against Nassar in 2015 and 2016.Horowitz has not responded, Cornyn’s office said.

Gymnasts, their parents and attorneys have accused the FBI of enabling Nassar’s continued abuse of young female athletes by the plodding pace of an investigation that lacked the sense of urgency the gravity of the charges required. and potentially aiding USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny in the organization’s alleged cover-up. Parents said they repeatedly offered FBI agents emails, texts and other materials that pointed to an alleged cover up by USA Gymnastics only to be informed by agents that their only focus was Nassar.

“It is clear that the FBI failed to protect our nation’s finest athletes and many other vulnerable children and young women from a vicious sexual predator,” the survivors write in their letter. “But we still do not know who exactly in the FBI participated in the cover up and whether misconduct reached into the higher ranks of the Justice Department.

“Why is the Justice Department sitting on this report? We do not want it withheld and then have authorities claim they cannot indict and prosecute the people involved in criminal conduct because the statute of limitations has expired.”

The DOJ has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Nassar, according to court documents, sexually abused at least 40 young athletes between USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny’s first contact with the FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s Indianapolis office in July 2015 and September 2016, when Nassar’s abuse became public. The number of victims in that window could actually surpass 100, according to persons familiar with dozens of Nassar-related lawsuits.

Nassar announced in September 2015 he was retiring as USA Gymnastics women’s national team physician. Neither he nor the organization disclosed the reason for his leaving

Nassar is currently serving 60-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges in 2017. He also pleaded guilty in 2018 to a total of 10 sexual assault charges in two Michigan state cases.

“The FBI was made aware five years ago that Larry Nassar was a child molester. They didn’t do anything about it until lawsuits were filed,” Manly said. “They aided USA Gymnastics in their public relations strategy and the special agent in charge of the investigation was actively engaged in discussions about being the new director of security for the USOC. That smells.

“I can tell you on behalf of my clients, some of whom were abused eight or nine hundred times by this man, the idea that the police and the FBI were engaged in a cooperative relationship (with USA Gymnastics) when they were supposed to be protecting children is repugnant. The FBI needs to answer for this and the people involved need to be accountable. How is it that he was allowed to stay at Michigan State and molest hundreds of little girls after the FBI knew and was certain that he was a child molester? How did that happen? When they knew, why wasn’t Michigan State notified?”

Penny was in regular contact with W. Jay Abbott, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis office, from July 27, 2015 when the national governing body first contacted the FBI with allegations that Nassar had sexually assaulted Team USA gymnasts under the guise of performing medical treatment.USA Gymnastics is based in Indianapolis.

Penny not only kept Abbott and other FBI officials updated on the availability of potential victims to be interviewed by the FBI, and developments with Nassar,  but also asked Abbott and other agents for advice and help in managing Nassar and the media, and in some cases for favors in how the FBI presented and handled the case, according to emails. The favors included Penny asking agents to withhold information from potential victims, according to emails.

During the FBI’s initial steps in investigating Nassar, Penny and Abbott also discussed on multiple occasions the possibility of Abbott becoming the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of security after his retirement from the bureau, an idea first floated by Penny, according to emails. Penny recommended Abbott to USOC officials during this same time period.

Abbott has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Penny denies any wrongdoing.

Penny and FBI agents over the next year continued to instruct victims, their parents and coaches, top level USA Gymnastics employees and coaches, to not say anything, according to interviews and emails.  Meanwhile Penny, while consulting with the FBI, scrambled to keep Nassar’s case from the public, according to interviews, USA Gymnastics and FBI emails and court documents. It would eventually be revealed that Nassar sexually assaulted more than 500 women, including all five members of the record-shattering, gold medal winning 2012 U.S Olympic team, and multiple Olympic and World Championships team members.

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Susan Scott
Susan Scott contributes to our Sports/Games section. She is a sports enthusiast and brings energy and warmth to the team with her constant quips and snippets from the sporting world. Her dedication to sports leaks into her work as well. Her stories are unique perspectives into the sporting world that take the ordinary man into the shoes of the athletes. She is a talented sportsperson herself, with many accolades under her belt already. What stops her from becoming a professional athlete is her inclination towards writing for sports more than sports itself !

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