FBI officials made false statements, failed to respond appropriately and exhibited “extremely poor judgment” in the handling of 2015 sexual abuse allegations against longtime USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, according to a stinging rebuke Wednesday from the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, an attorney for 250 Nassar survivors and two U.S. senators called for a criminal investigation and charges in light of the new revelations.
“Senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar with the urgency that the allegations required,” the inspectors general’s office said in a statement after the report was released Wednesday.
The Indianapolis officials didn’t respond for eight months, according to the report. The senior officials — then-Field Office Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott and an unnamed Indianapolis Field Office Supervisory Special Agent — also lied in reports as well as in response to the inspectors general’s questions.
“We also found that the FBI Indianapolis Field Office made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office (the Lansing Resident Agency) or state or local authorities of the allegations, and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.”
During the lag in the investigation, an attorney for survivors said Nassar molested at least 120 women and girls. That attorney, John Manly, and two U.S. Senators, said they want to know why no criminal charges have been filed.
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Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), who were briefed by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the report Wednesday, are now pushing for Congressional hearings on the details shared in the report. They questioned why criminal charges were not pursued against FBI agents, including those in Indianapolis, who made false statements during the Inspector General investigation.
“The Department of Justice now needs to decide whether it’s going to be yet another institution that fails survivors, or if it’s going to enforce some measure of accountability,” Blumenthal said during a press conference. “On its own, Congress has to make sure that there is accountability, and that’s why I believe that next steps have to include a Congressional hearing.”
He called the report “absolutely chilling.”
“(It’s) truly a gut punch to anyone who cares about effective law enforcement,” Blumenthal said. “There has to be some measure of accountability enforced for the failure to properly pursue the investigation by the FBI and indeed the possible cover up that may have occurred.”
Moran echoed those thoughts during Wednesday’s joint press conference, saying the FBI’s handling of the accusations was “woefully inadequate.”
“It is mind boggling. It’s inexplainable to me,” Moran said. “I don’t understand how an FBI agent, an enforcer of the law, a person who takes an oath to support the law, conducted themselves in a way that was so damaging, certainly to justice, but also to the individuals.”
The report cited troubling missteps and failures by FBI field offices in Indianapolis, Lansing, Michigan, Los Angeles and Portland, Maine. But it was the Indianapolis office, where the report about Nassar was originally made in 2015, that took the brunt of criticism.
The Indianapolis FBI Office would not comment and instead referred requests to the national office. In a written response issued after the report was released, the FBI said:
“As the Inspector General made clear in today’s report, this should not have happened. The FBI will never lose sight of the harm that Nassar’s abuse caused. The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization. The FBI has taken affirmative steps to ensure and has confirmed that those responsible for the misconduct and breach of trust no longer work FBI matters.
“Prior to today, the FBI initiated improvements to make sure that serious allegations, such as these, are promptly shared with our law enforcement partners and within the FBI. As a continuation of these efforts, the FBI is fully committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by the Inspector General.
“We will take all necessary steps to ensure that the failures of the employees outlined in the Report do not happen again.”
Despite the report’s critical take on the FBI’s actions and inaction, attorney Manly, who represents 250 Nassar survivors, called the report a “whitewash” and a “disgrace.” He said it was “despicable” because no one in the FBI was criminally charged, and said he will ask the White House and the Justice Department to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate criminal charges.
“I am beside myself, and the families of the victims will be too,” said Manly. “This reeks of collusion and corruption. This gives the green light for every FBI agent to do what these four agents in Indianapolis did … You have multiple FBI agents lying to everyone and at the same time Abbott is talking about taking a job,” with the U.S. Olympic Committee, Manly said. “He belongs in prison.”
Abbott, who retired in 2018, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Manly said while the FBI sat on the investigation, 120 women were molested between July 2015 and when Nassar was exposed. He added that he is exploring whether it is possible to sue the FBI and the agents personally.
“It’s obvious that the FBI failed survivors in all of this,” said Nassar survivor Grace French, the founder and president of The Army of Survivors. “They put financial gain and the possibility of an opportunity for future employment in front of athletes, of children, of survivors. And that’s incredibly disappointing to me,”
French said she grew up thinking that people in positions of authority were there to her. “That was always my understanding,” she said. “But I’ve come to realize, over and over again as I’m dealing with this drama myself, that that’s not the case.”
She called the FBI’s blunders “just another blow” for survivors.
When IndyStar, which first revealed allegations against Nassar in September 2016, and other media and government officials began asking questions about the case, the OIG statement said Indianapolis FBI officials “did not take responsibility for their failures. Instead, they provided incomplete and inaccurate information to make it appear that they had been diligent in responding to the sexual abuse allegations.”
Other finding cited by the inspector general included:
- Officials in the Indianapolis Field Office failed to formally document a July 28, 2015, meeting with USA Gymnastics during which the FBI first received the allegations against Nassar; failed to properly handle and document receipt and review of relevant evidence; failed to document until February 2017 an interview of a gymnast that was conducted on September 2, 2015, during which the gymnast alleged sexual assault by Nassar; and failed to transfer the Nassar allegations to the FBI Lansing Resident Agency, where venue most likely would have existed for potential federal crimes.
- Abbott and an unidentified Indianapolis Field Office Supervisory Special Agent made false statements in an interview summary drafted in February 2017, 17 months after the interview took place, and omitted material information. The special agent made materially false statements when twice questioned by the OIG about the victim interview. Abbott also made materially false statements during his OIG interviews to minimize errors made by the Indianapolis Field Office.
The report also found “Abbott violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules when he, without prior authorization, communicated with Penny about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee, an entity with which Penny had professional connections.” It said those discussions occurred “while the two continued to discuss the allegations against Nassar and while Abbott took an active role in conversations about the FBI’s public statements regarding USA Gymnastics’ handling of those allegations.”
“Abbott should have known — and we found that he in fact did know — that this conduct would raise questions regarding his impartiality,” the inspector general statement said. “Further, Abbott applied for the position with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and then falsely denied that he had done so when questioned by the OIG on two separate occasions.”
While the FBI probe languished, Nassar’s reign of sexual abuse was first publicly exposed in September 2016 by an IndyStar investigation.
The inspector general’s investigation began in 2018, following an internal FBI review of the delay before agents opened a formal investigation into the complaints raised in June 2015 by elite-level gymnasts, including Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols.
Nassar was ultimately charged and convicted of child sexual abuse in Michigan state court. He also pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges that spun out of the investigation by police at Michigan State University.
The FBI’s delay in investigating the 2015 allegations has long been a point of contention for survivors. In June 2020, a group sent a letter to the justice department asking why it had not released its report on the FBI’s handling of the case.
“It is clear that the FBI failed to protect our nation’s finest athletes and many other vulnerable children and young women from a vicious sexual predator,” said the letter to Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General, that was signed by more than 120 Nassar survivors. “But we still do not know who exactly in the FBI participated in the cover up and whether misconduct reached into the higher ranks of the Justice Department.”
Among those signing the letter were Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and Madison Kocian, plus NCAA champion Nichols. Nichols was the first gymnast to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics and was the central character in the 2020 Netflix documentary Athlete A.
The report’s release comes as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team travels to Japan for the delayed summer Olympic Games, which begin next week in Tokyo. On that team is Biles, who has identified herself as a victim of Nassar and has expressed frustration over the handling of the case.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics Committee said they are reviewing the inspectors general’s report and will issue a statement soon.
During the course of this investigation, the OIG interviewed more than 60 witnesses, several on more than one occasion. It also collected over 1.5 million documents, including FBI interview reports, agent notes, as well as text messages and emails. The office also obtained records from private parties such as USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Among those documents was a thumb drive containing videos and presentations of Nassar’s purported medical techniques that the Indianapolis Field Office received from USA Gymnastics officials.
Nassar is serving a 60-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges in 2017. He also faces 40 to 125 years on the state sex charges in Michigan. More than 500 women and girls have now alleged they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who also taught and worked at a sports medicine clinic at Michigan State University while serving as the USA Gymnastics team doctor.
Steve Penny, former president of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, reported allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar to Abbott, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis office, on July 27, 2015.
During the FBI’s initial steps in the investigation, Penny and Abbott also discussed the possibility of Abbott becoming the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of security after his retirement from the FBI, according to emails. In 2018, Penny’s attorney Edith Matthai confirmed the conversation took place, but told IndyStar “any suggestion that Steve had the conversation with Abbott in order to impact the FBI investigation is false and defamatory.”
Penny was forced to resign in 2017 after it was revealed he waited about five weeks to inform the FBI of the initial allegations USA Gymnastics had received about Nassar on June 17, 2015.
Larry Nassar investigation mishandled by FBI, DOJ report says