Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and three other elite gymnasts offered wrenching testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill as they skewered the FBI for ignoring and mishandling sexual abuse accusations the women lodged against former U.S. gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
Ms. Biles, 24, shed tears during her opening remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She told lawmakers that “the scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us.”
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse,” she said.
The hearing marked the first official, public inquiry into the agency’s failure to properly investigate the largest sexual abuse case in the history of American sports.
The Senate committee scheduled the hearing after a Justice Department inspector general report in July determined that the FBI did not adequately address accusations from at least 40 women who said Nassar molested them over a 14-month period.
The 119-page report said top FBI officials at the agency’s Indianapolis field office knew of the accusations in July 2015 but did not properly alert officials in Michigan, where Nassar worked. They did not respond to the accusations with “the utmost seriousness and urgency” that they required and their inquiry was “appallingly inadequate,” investigators said.
Gymnast Aly Raisman, 27, said her reports of abuse “were not only buried” by USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Paralympic Committee, but they were also “mishandled” by federal agents “who failed to follow their most basic duties.”
They knew Nassar was molesting children, she said, but they allowed him to continue his “work” as a gymnastics doctor.
“It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” said Ms. Raisman, a two-time Olympian who retired this year.
Ms. Biles said “it truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect” USAG and USPC.”
When the Indianapolis FBI agents eventually responded to the gymnasts’ accusations, they made numerous errors, did not alert state or local authorities, and did not take other actions to mitigate the ongoing threat, according to the inspector general’s report.
“These failures … contributed to a delay of over a year in the proper FBI field office and local authorities initiating investigations that ultimately determined that Nassar had engaged in widespread sexual assaults of over 100 victims,” the report said.
FBI officials in Michigan did not start a formal investigation until September 2016, after the Indianapolis Star reported the accusations.
Olympian McKayla Maroney, 25, testified about the abuse to an FBI agent in the summer of 2015 and said her report was not documented until 17 months later.
“By not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year, and this inaction directly allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue,” Ms. Maroney said.
After reading the inspector general’s report, she said, she realized the FBI had falsified her statement about the abuse.
“What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?” she asked.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified during the hearing that the agent’s falsified statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar‘s defense.”
Ms. Maroney also lambasted the Justice Department for refusing to prosecute the FBI agents involved and criticized Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco for not attending the hearing, despite getting an invitation to testify.
“It is the Department of Justice’s job to hold them accountable,” Ms. Maroney said. “I am tired of waiting for people to do the right thing because my abuse was enough and we deserve justice.”
The Justice Department has not charged any of the FBI agents involved in the case. The agency did not respond to a request for comment sent Wednesday.
W. Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office during the botched investigation, resigned in 2018.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified that the agent who falsified Ms. Maroney’s statement had been fired within the past two weeks.
The bureau, which used to make headlines for collaring crooks, has been in the press for all the wrong reasons in recent years.
The Trump administration began with the firing of Director James B. Comey and ended with a former FBI lawyer’s guilty plea to falsifying documents in the Russian collusion probe.
In between, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired for misleading investigators about media leaks, FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page exchanged anti-Trump banter while having an extramarital affair, and a scathing inspector general report found a slew of “inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s applications to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Mr. Wray has been trying to rebuild the FBI’s image since he became the director in 2017.
At Wednesday’s hearing, he apologized to the U.S. gymnasts who were sexually abused by Nassar. He said the agency’s failure to properly investigate accusations against the doctor “was beyond the pale” and the FBI is doing “everything in our power” to avoid a repeat.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki dodged questions about whether President Biden has confidence in the FBI director amid the gymnasts’ testimony.
Asked whether Mr. Biden still has confidence in Mr. Wray, Ms. Psaki demurred, noting that the director was testifying on Capitol Hill alongside the abused gymnasts.
“Obviously, the FBI director was also testifying today and spoke to his views of what went wrong here, so I point you to that,” Ms. Psaki said.
The lack of firm support for Mr. Wray is a departure from the White House’s previous stance. Ms. Psaki said in July that the president “has confidence” in the FBI director.
The gymnasts demanded a further investigation into the FBI’s wrongdoings, as well as USAG and USPC, for covering up Nassar‘s abuse for years.
Former collegiate gymnast Maggie Nichols, 24, told the committee that “for many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice.”
“We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law,” she said.
More than 150 women and girls testified in court that Nassar sexually abused them. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years behind bars after pleading guilty in 2018 to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges.
Ms. Biles said Nassar is “where he belongs” but the people who enabled him “deserve to be held accountable.”
“A message needs to be sent: If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe,” Ms. Biles said. “Enough is enough.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.