FBI Ignored Olympic Gymnasts’ Sexual Assault Allegations Then Lied To Cover Up Negligence: Report
In what appears to be the latest major public embarrassment for the FBI, an internal DoJ watchdog revealed on Wednesday in a long-anticipated report on the bureau’s handling – or rather, mishandling – of one of the most sprawling abuse cases in American sports history: the investigation, arrest and imprisonment of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the American national gymnastics team.
The Inspector General’s report detailed multiple failings of the FBI’s investigation’s response to the gymnasts’ complaints, which were first brought to the attention of the Indianapolis field office on July 28, 2015.
For more than a year, the FBI did “almost nothing” in response to the allegations, while Nassar continued to work and abuse women and young girls. According to the report, after the reports were made, agents in Indianapolis were unsure whether the allegations represented a “possible federal crime.” This, despite the fact that by then USA Gymnastics had already completed its own investigation, and the organization’s then-President Stephen Penny was the one who initially reported the findings to the FBI.
Still, it took months for the bureau to open its own investigation.
During the 14 months that followed the initial report, Nassar abused another 40 girls and women. In 2016, USA Gymnastics made a report to the FBI bureau in LA, fearing that the officials in Indianapolis weren’t treating the allegations with “the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required.” When this, too, was ignored, Nassar managed to find new employment at Michigan State University after being allowed to “quietly retire” from USA Gymnastics. Top officials from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said nothing to Nassar’s new employer.
The bureau’s conduct was “inexcusable and a discredit” to America’s premier law-enforcement agency, the report concluded.
Here’s a rundown of the specific findings courtesy of a DoJ press release:
Officials in the Indianapolis Field Office violated numerous FBI policies in handling the Nassar allegations. Specifically, officials in the Indianapolis Field Office.
Failed to formally document a July 28, 2015 meeting with USA Gymnastics during which the FBI first received the allegations against Nassar.
Failed to properly handle and document receipt and review of relevant evidence, i.e., a thumb drive provided by USA Gymnastics President Stephen D. Penny.
Failed to document until February 2017 an interview of a gymnast that was conducted on September 2, 2015, during which the gymnast alleged sexual assault by Nassar; and
Failed to transfer the Nassar allegations to the FBI Lansing Resident Agency, where venue most likely would have existed for potential federal crimes.
In addition, the OIG identified shortcomings in the FBI’s policies, including its policy regarding notification of local law enforcement agencies in child exploitation cases, that should be further assessed to ensure that the FBI can more effectively handle these types of matters.
The report also reveals that many false statements were made by Indianapolis FBI agents to internal FBI investigators, including the special agent in charge of the office, Jay Abbott, and an unnamed supervisory special agent. Apparently, Abbott appeared more interested in discussing a potential job opportunity with Penny than the investigation.
In response, the FBI said in a statement: “We accept in full the OIG’s recommendation and take especially seriously the findings that certain FBI employees did not respond to allegations of sexual abuse adequately and with the utmost urgency in 2015 and 2016.” The FBI also said the supervisory special agent is no longer a supervisor, and that after learning of the inspector general’s findings, “the FBI took immediate action to ensure the individual is not working on FBI matters.”
The details of the report threaten to overshadow the Summer Olympics, which are set to begin next week. The present iteration of the US women’s gymnastics team, which includes Simon Biles, who has identified herself as a victim of Nassar’s abuse.
An internal DoJ investigation was launched back in 2018 amid the outrage that followed revelations about Nassar’s abuse, which blossomed into a national scandal. He was arrested in November 2016, and pleased guilty to state and federal charges tied to sex abuse and child pornography.
Ultimately, the FBI’s LA office did the legwork, including interviewing female athletes who had been abused.
A handful of senators including Connecticut’s Dick Blumenthal and Kansas Republican Jerry Moran were personally briefed on the report’s contents by DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the report Wednesday afternoon.
Nassar has been accused and convicted – he will spend the rest of his life in a federal prison – of repeatedly assaulting at least 265 young women and girls under the auspices of providing “medical treatment.”