Gymnasts testify before Congress about FBI failures in Nassar case

Molly Ziesenheim, A&E

After abusing over 150 gymnasts over the span of several years. U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, along with several other gymnasts, have now accused authorities, as well as gymnastics officials, of enabling Larry Nassar’s abuse.

Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography charges, and he was sentenced to up to 175 years in Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Biles has accused the FBI of turning a “blind eye” to Nassar’s abuse. Biles said, “I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse.” The hearing was a part of an effort to hold the FBI accountable after multiple missteps in the investigation.

The FBI’s investigation began in July 2015. After three gymnasts came forward to the FBI on Nassar’s abuse, only one was interviewed. McKayla Maroney recalls an agent she spoke to asking, “Is that all?” after she spoke in graphic detail of the sexual abuse that occurred. 

During the hearing Maroney said, “To have my abuse minimized and disregarded by the people who were supposed to protect me, just to feel like my abuse was not enough.”  

The FBI failed to formally document this interview for 17 months. When the interview was finally documented, the agent who authored the report misinterpreted what Maroney had told him. It was later discovered that one of the agents assigned to the case was hoping to get a job with USA Gymnastics or the US Olympic Committee. 

The FBI did not pursue Nassar until 2016 after 37,000 child abuse images were found on hard drives in his possession by local police. The FBI was accused of downplaying the victims’ experiences, delaying the investigation, and failing to collect evidence of Nassar’s crimes. 

Not only were Nassar’s victims abused, but they were also disregarded by those who were supposed to help them. Maroney said in her testimony, “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?”

FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the situation in the hearing and told the athletes, “it will never happen again.” While he praised the gymnasts’ courage to come forward, he did not commit to taking the accountability that they demanded. He insisted that the FBI’s conduct was not a reflection of the institution, but of the individuals’ mistakes.