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The FBI and the U.S. Olympic Committee sat on allegations for over a year that could have kept Larry Nassar from abusing more young victims, according to a new congressional report.
The scathing report, spearheaded by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Jerry Moran and other members of a Senate Commerce subcommittee, says the FBI barely acted on evidence of the sports doctor’s sexual misconduct, and further accuses Michigan State University, where Nassar saw patients, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee of failing to act in defense of Nassar’s victims.
Nassar was far from a “lone wolf,” Blumenthal told NBC on Tuesday. "He was enabled by others, and if they lied about it and if they obstructed the investigation, if they destroyed documents, then they should be held accountable." The senator described it as a cover-up, perhaps not criminal but at least "in spirit."
The FBI hiding Nassar's allegations for so long, however, led to the abuse of "dozens of additional amateur athletes," according to the report.
A damning point in the report notes Nassar continued to work for MSU 420 days after the FBI received credible allegations against him in July 2015. Instead of probing into Nassar’s misconduct, the FBI “failed to pursue a course of action that would have immediately protected victims in harm’s way.”
Even though the FBI knew about the allegations, Nassar continued to see patients at MSU until Aug. 20, 2016. He only stopped working when former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a complaint against him a day earlier.
The report found emails by USA Gymnastics in September 2015 attempting to coordinate interviews and connect victims with FBI investigators, which only led to the FBI interviewing U.S. Olympian McKayla Maroney. According to the report, she described Nassar’s misconduct — he molested her hundreds of times while under his care, starting when she was just 13 — to the FBI over the phone. However, when she was interviewed a second time, in 2016, “the FBI did not acknowledge the 2015 interview or explain why they had not yet acted on the information provided in the 2015 interview,” according to the report.
"In many instances they [sexual allegations] were reported and, almost without exception, the people that they were reported to didn't respond,” Sen. Moran said in an interview with NBC.
The FBI helped USA Gymnastics hide the truth about Nassar, according to the report, when Steve Penny, the then-head of USAG, “expressed to the FBI his desire to ‘body-slam’ reporters investigating the Nassar situation” on Sept. 7, 2016. In 2018, Penny was arrested for tampering with evidence that would have assisted the investigation into Nassar.
Nassar is now serving up to 175 years in prison for abusing women and girls under the guise of medical care, and USAG faces 100 lawsuits representing over 350 athletes across the nation who suffered from Nassar’s treatment while they failed to act.
Though Nassar only pleaded guilty to assaulting 10 minors in January 2018, more than 150 women came forward with graphic testimonies of how they had been groped, fondled, assaulted, and raped by the sports doctor.
Along with the report revealing the collusion to bury the doctor’s dirty deeds, the Senate on Tuesday introduced the bipartisan Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, to improve oversight and prevent future abuse. If Congress deems it necessary, the USAG and USOC boards might be dissolved.
But the CEO of USOC, Sarah Hirshland, told NBC that the legislation has sections "that, while conceptually appropriate, could result in unintended consequences and disruption for athletes in operational reality.”
The FBI has declined requests for comment.
Editor's note 7/31 9:40 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify how many more victims were abused by Nassar during the FBI's inaction.
Cover: A survivor of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar in the USA Gymnastics system speaks about her experience during a conference in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)