Applause broke out in the Senate hearing room Tuesday when Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked for former gymnasts who have been sexual abuse victims to stand.
“It was well over a year ago that I had a meeting in my conference room with a group of women, and I walked in,” Feinstein said. “I looked at faces with expressions that I had never seen before, and I realized that it was something that was really serious.”
The California Democrat helped lead Senate legislation that cleared in January to overhaul reporting requirements for allegations of abuse in Olympic and amateur sports.
But Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and her Senate colleagues said there’s much more to do.
“The fact is, revelations regarding institutional failures continue to force these victims [to] have to relive their experience over and over again,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein appeared at the witness table at a Commerce subcommittee hearing with Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley. The Iowa Republican also said Congress and other stakeholders must take more action, including with respect to the FBI.
“Congressional oversight of the FBI falls within the jurisdiction of Sen. Feinstein and my committee,” Grassley said. “And after hearing one gymnast’s complaint about the FBI’s handling of the allegations against Nasar I wrote the FBI director to request a briefing on the bureau’s involvement in this case.”
Grassley said his office was told Monday the FBI’s handling was sent to the Justice Department’s inspector general. That referral has been previously reported, but Grassley suggested the action could be an attempt to shield the FBI from accountability.
“Where I have, particularly in this office, have respect for the inspector general, sometimes I see this as a move, maybe, to protect the FBI from some embarrassment, at least immediate embarrassment,” Grassley said.
The CEO of USA Gymnastics found herself on a hot seat in the Senate hearing room Tuesday.
Kerry Perry, who became the chief executive last December, tried to square different representations about the relationship between the organization and former team doctor Larry Nassar.
“I want to be clear,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “You are saying that Larry Nassar never worked for USA Gymnastics in a way that would make you in any way legally responsible?”
“No, Sen. Blumenthal, I am not saying that at all, what I’m saying is that he was not an employee of USA Gymnastics. Of course, as the team doctor, there was definitely a relationship there with USA Gymnastics,” Perry said.
The Consumer Protection subcommittee of the Commerce Committee was holding the latest in a series of hearings about the way forward in the aftermath of the systematic abuse of athletes by Nassar, the former Michigan State University doctor, who is serving what is effectively a life sentence for convictions on numerous counts of molestation.
Blumenthal, the ranking member, pointed to court filings that seemed to say otherwise.
“That seems contrary to what you have said in court,” Blumenthal rebutted. “In court, you’ve said he, in effect, was like a volunteer who just happened to be there and you have no responsibility for anything he did. By the way, that contention is belied by your own documents.”
“I would look at it really hard, and I would decide — and I’m being very serious — whether your organization really wants to stand by that representation,” Blumenthal said.
Other witnesses at the Tuesday hearing included former Michigan Gov. John Engler, the Michigan State interim president, and Susanne Lyons, who is acting CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The panel has previously heard from former officials in office at the time of Nassar’s abuse.
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the chairman of the Commerce subcommittee that hosted Tuesday’s hearing, gathered with more than 80 abuse victims earlier in the day.
“We as members of Congress, particularly members of the Commerce Committee, need to do everything to make certain that the Ted Stevens Act, which governs the Olympics, is in its appropriate and proper form so that this behavior never occurs again,” Moran said. “And should it occur again, that there is a process by which it can be reported and stopped.”
The Ted Stevens Act is the law that provides an effective monopoly to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Among the victims speaking Tuesday was Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.
“After all this time, there is no real accountability from USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Raisman said. “Until we have honest answers from an independent law enforcement investigation that addresses this, every proposed solution, program, and hire, is just guesswork.”