Gymnasts’ testimony leaves senators wondering why FBI agents aren’t being prosecuted

Team USA gymnasts appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee

From left, gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Simone Biles arrive to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
From left, gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Simone Biles arrive to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 15, 2021 at 5:16pm

The congressional testimony of four Team USA gymnasts left everyone watching questioning why FBI agents have not been charged with making false statements under oath.

“After telling my entire story of abuse to the FBI in summer of 2015, not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” McKayla Maroney, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Maroney was among the athletes to testify at a hearing on the FBI’s mishandling of allegations made against former team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for serial sexual abuse of young women, many of whom have been elite U.S. gymnasts.

The hearing followed an Office of Inspector General report over the summer that found multiple FBI field offices failed to take the allegations seriously.

“I was shocked and deeply disappointed at this narrative they chose to fabricate,” Maroney said. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester, rather than protect not only me but countless others.”

It is a rare circumstance that the FBI director is not the headline witness at a Senate Judiciary hearing in which he testifies, but Wednesday was no ordinary day. Testifying along with Maroney were three other prominent USA gymnasts, including Simone Biles, the seven-time Olympic medalist who competed in the Tokyo Games earlier this summer.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ It is the power of that statement that compels and empowers me to be here in front of you today,” Biles said in her opening statement. “I do not want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse.”

The Justice Department inspector general investigation that led to the hearing found failures at multiple levels of the FBI, and FBI Director Christopher Wray sought to provide assurances that the agency is implementing changes to prevent a recurrence.

“I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster in 2015 and failed. It never should have happened,” said Wray, who was not leading the FBI in 2015 and 2016 when the Nassar investigation should have taken place.

Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who is also the majority whip, pointed to scope of the failure.
“What strikes me here is there doesn’t seem to have ever been a sense of urgency or immediacy in that Indianapolis Field Office,” Durbin said. “What am I missing here? This is like a child kidnapping case. This man is on the loose molesting children, and it appears that it’s being lost in the paperwork of the agency.”

Wednesday’s hearing focused only on the actions of FBI agents such as Jay Abbott, who was the special agent in charge of the Indianapolis Field Office, and Michael Langeman, who had interviewed Maroney back in 2015 and was recently fired.

Noticeably absent was Justice Department leadership itself, a point that gymnast Aly Raisman made on her way to the hearing, expressing disappointment that neither Attorney General Merrick B. Garland nor Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco appeared to testify.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on the absence, although Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said after the hearing that he wanted to hear from them.

“The Department of Justice was a no-show; they should be answering many of the questions,” Blumenthal said. First among them may be whether the Justice Department is declining to prosecute either Abbott or Langeman.

But the gymnasts, senators and other attendees also sought more accountability for USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said.

Late in the hearing, after the gymnasts and likely much of the attention had left the room, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said there should be a discussion about the appropriate oversight mechanism for the sanctioning bodies.

He said the testimony from the gymnasts led him to wonder, “What is the right independent oversight mechanism of those bodies, which are not just private entities. … They are organizations that have been sanctioned by Congress to oversee our U.S. athletes.”

In her opening statement, gymnast Maggie Nichols made the point that no one involved in the failure to act has faced criminal sanction. Nichols, who was the first gymnast known to have reported allegations of abuse by Nassar, said Wednesday that her “Olympic dreams ended in the summer of 2015, when my coach and I reported Larry Nassar’s abuse to USAG leadership.”

“To date, no one from the FBI, the USOPC or USAG has faced federal charges, other than Larry Nassar. For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice,” Nichols told the senators. “We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”