WASHINGTON — According to the Justice Department’s inspector general, the FBI made “fundamental” mistakes in investigating sexual assault accusations against former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar and did not handle the investigation with “utmost seriousness.” Before the FBI went into action, other players claimed they had been assaulted.
The FBI admitted to acting in an “inexcusable and discreditable” manner “to America’s top law enforcement organization and everyone else
The long-awaited watchdog report expresses serious concerns about the department’s and FBI’s handling of the investigation, including key FBI errors between the time the accusations were first made and Nassar’s arrest.
The inspector general’s inquiry was prompted by claims that the FBI failed to respond to complaints filed against Nassar in 2015 in a timely manner. After conducting its own internal investigation, USA Gymnastics’ then-president, Stephen Penny, referred the claims to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office. However, it took many months for the FBI to launch an official inquiry.
Over a 14-month span, at least 40 girls and women said Nassar abused them, while the FBI was aware of prior sexual abuse claims against him. After eight months of inaction from investigators in Indianapolis, USA Gymnastics executives contacted FBI authorities in Los Angeles in May 2016.
Despite the “extraordinarily severe nature” of the allegations against Nassar, FBI personnel in Indianapolis did not respond with the “utmost seriousness and haste” that the allegations warranted and demanded, according to the inspector general’s office.
When they did respond, FBI personnel committed “many and fundamental mistakes” and broke bureau regulations, according to the study. A failure to perform any investigation action until more than a month following a meeting with USA Gymnastics was one of the mistakes. Despite being assured that two additional gymnasts were available to meet, agents only talked with one of the three athletes over the phone.
When the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the case was questioned, the watchdog investigation discovered that officials there refused to take responsibility for the mistakes and provided incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries to make it appear as if they had been thorough in their investigation.
The FBI chastised its own agents for failing to intervene in the case, saying it “should not have happened.”
In a statement, the FBI said, “The acts and inactions of certain FBI personnel detailed in the Report are reprehensible and a disgrace to our organization.”
The FBI has taken affirmative efforts to guarantee and confirm that those responsible for the wrongdoing and violation of trust are no longer working on FBI affairs, according to the statement. “We will take all necessary efforts to ensure that the staff failings detailed in the Report do not recur.”
Last September, the inspector general spoke with an FBI supervisory special agent who stated the first accusations made by Penny and USA Gymnastics were “extremely imprecise” and questioned Penny’s veracity, describing him as a “snake oil salesman type of guy.”
Because the alleged crimes did not occur in Indiana, the special agent also told investigators that the Indianapolis field office did not appear to have jurisdiction to investigate. Penny and the chairman of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors both deny that the agent and an FBI supervisor in the office ordered her to call local law enforcement.
The supervisory special agent “violated several regulations,” according to the FBI, and the agency acted quickly after learning that the agent failed to properly document sexual abuse allegations, mismanaged evidence, and neglected to report abuse.
While the FBI was investigating the Nassar accusations, W. Jay Abbott, the chief of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, was talking to Penny about gaining a job with the Olympic Committee, according to the article. According to the article, he applied for the post but was not hired, and he eventually retired from the FBI.
Nassar was eventually charged with federal child pornography and sexual assault in Michigan in 2016.
After hundreds of girls and women said he sexually assaulted them while working for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, he is now serving decades in jail.
Thousands of records were reviewed by the inspector general’s office, and more than 60 witnesses were questioned, including numerous victims, their parents, prosecutors, and current and former FBI personnel.
Members of Congress slammed the FBI’s handling of the matter, and several senators demanded that the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Attorney General Merrick Garland speak about it.
Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., stated, “We are outraged by the FBI’s egregious mismanagement of the specific warnings its agents had about Larry Nassar’s horrible assault years before he was eventually caught.”
The FBI’s handling of the probe was also heavily criticized by Nassar’s victims.
Rachel Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, tweeted, “The scores of small children victimized after the FBI knew who Larry was and exactly what he was doing, could have and should have been saved.”
Abbott should be punished, according to John Manly, an attorney for over 150 of Nassar’s victims. He also believes that anybody responsible for the investigation’s mistakes should be held accountable.
“The announcement of the OIG report shocks the conscience,” Manly added. “These women and girls deserved not just a comprehensive investigation, but also the respect and undivided attention of those looking into their case.”
Six years after Penny initially alerted authorities about the Nassar scandal, USA Gymnastics is still struggling from the repercussions. Since the 2016 Olympics, the sport’s national governing organization has undergone a major makeover in terms of leadership — current president Li Li Leung is the fourth person to occupy the role — and safety measures with the aim of better protecting players.
USA Gymnastics is also in court, continuing mediation with dozens of Nassar survivors, but Leung expects to reach an agreement by the end of the year.
Last month, Leung told reporters, “At the end of the day, what occurred is something we’re learning from, and we’re utilizing the past to guide how we go ahead.”
The report was released on the same day as the United States’ 2021 Olympic gymnastics squad, which features reigning world and Olympic champion and Nassar abuse survivor Simone Biles.