Olympians, senators call for prosecution of former FBI agents for lying about the Larry Nassar case
Two and a half hours into a Senate judiciary committee hearing into the FBI’s mishandling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) offered FBI director Christopher Wray some advice.
The hearing was in response to the July release of a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s report that found the FBI failed to act in its Nassar investigation “with the urgency that the allegations required.” Specifically the Inspector General’s investigation found that Michael Langeman, the supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Indianapolis office lied to investigators to cover up errors made in the bureau’s investigation into allegations that Nassar, the former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics national team physician, sexually assaulted gymnasts under the guise of treatment.
The OIG also determined that that W. Jay Abbott, the Indianapolis special agent in charge, lied to investigators about applying for a top level security position with the U.S. Olympic Committee while consulting with USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny about the Nassar case.
Abbott retired from the FBI in January 2018. Langeman was fired from the bureau two weeks ago, Wray confirmed Wednesday.
But the Justice Department has declined to prosecute either man.
“If I was in your shoes,” Blumenthal told Wray, “I would be walking across the street to the Attorney General of the United States and I would be saying you need to prosecute.
“Why aren’t you doing that?”
Wray responded that he would not discuss the nature of his private conversations with Attorney General Merrick Garland, adding that he was “careful not to blur my lanes of responsibility.”
But Blumenthal, a former U.S. Attorney, persisted.
“But we both know that very often that at even at the lowly level of the US Attorney,” Blumenthal continued “that an FBI comes pounding on my door and says you gotta go after this guy, he’s dirty, he’s a bad guy.”
The exchange was one of the repeated calls by former Olympians and senators for Langeman and Abbott, as well as former USA Gymnastics and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee executives, to be prosecuted for their roles in the cover-up of Nassar’s decades of sexual abuse of more than 500 survivors.
Wray told the committee that Justice Department officials twice, once in 2020 and again earlier this year, declined to indict Abbott and Langeman.
“A whole lot of people should be prosecuted here besides Nassar,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont during his questioning of Wray and Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “Some of the people within the athletic field that were aware of this, turned a blind eye to this, did nothing, allowed all these victims (to be abused). There are a whole lot of people who should be in prison. I’m aware (Nassar is) in prison but I can tell you frankly as a parent, as a grandparent there’s a hell of a lot more I’d like to see in prison.”
The FBI agents, Olympic champion Simone Biles told the committee, should “at least be federally prosecuted to the fullest extent because they need to be held accountable.”
The OIG investigation found that Abbott not only lied about his pursuit of the USOPC job while handling the Nassar investigation. He also lied to investigators about the initial steps he took in the days and weeks after he learned of allegations against Nassar in July 2015.
The OIG also found that the FBI “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, i.e., a thumb drive provided by USA Gymnastics President Stephen D. Penny, Jr.; 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 the venue most likely would have existed for potential federal crimes.”
The OIG report also revealed that Langeman did not write a formal report of his 2015 interview of Olympic champion McKayla Maroney, who was repeatedly assaulted by Nassar, until nearly a year and a half later. Maroney and her attorney, John Manly, said that they disputed the accuracy and veracity of the report.
“It’s not only that the FBI failed to do its job, systematically, and repeatedly, it is also the cover of the cover-up that occurred afterward,” Blumenthal said.
“This failure was systematic. This investigation was mishandled from coast to coast, from Indianapolis to Los Angeles,”
The Olympians and senators also expressed outrage that Justice Department officials turned down an invitation to attend the hearing.
“What’s even more upsetting to me is that we know that these FBI agents have committed an obvious crime,” Maroney said referring to the FBI not following up on her three-hour telephone interview with Langeman. “They falsified my statement, and that is illegal in itself. Yet no recourse has been taken against them. The Department of Justice refused to prosecute these individuals. Why? Deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco couldn’t bring herself to be here today. It’s the Department of Justice’s job to hold them accountable.
“These individuals clearly violated policies and were negligent in executing their duties, and in doing so, more girls were abused by Larry Nassar for over a year. To not indict these agents is a disservice to me and my teammates, a disservice to the system which is built to protect all of us from abuse.”
Penny and other top USA Gymnastics officials were informed in June 2015 of allegations that gymnast Maggie Nichols had been sexually assaulted by Nassar under the guise of treatment at a U.S. national team camp at the Karolyi Ranch in remote Central Texas. Within days Penny and other officials also learned of allegations that Olympic champions Aly Raisman and Maroney had also been sexually abused by Nassar. Around this time Penny began communicating with Abbott through a series of conversations and emails, often seeking the FBI agent’s advice on handling the case.
Nassar, according to court documents, sexually abused at least 40 young athletes between Penny’s first contact with the FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s Indianapolis office in July 2015 and September 2016, when Nassar’s abuse became public. The number of victims in that window could actually surpass 100, according to persons familiar with dozens of Nassar-related lawsuits.
“In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar,” Nichols told the committee.
Raisman recounted how the FBI failed to contact her about Nassar’s abuse for more than a year despite repeated requests by her and her mother to be interviewed.
“In 2015 it was known that at least six national team athletes had been abused by Nassar,” Raisman said. “There was even one of the athletes that was abused on film. Given our abuser’s unfettered access to children, stopping him should have been a priority. Instead, the following occurred: The FBI failed to interview pertinent parties in a timely manner. It took over 14 months for the FBI to contact me despite my many requests to be interviewed by them.”
Raisman also said she “felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar’s plea deal” on federal child pornography charges.
Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2017 in the child pornography case. He was later sentenced to 40 to 175 years and 40 to 125 years in two Michigan state courts after pleading guilty to multiple sexual assault charges. He is currently an inmate at a federal prison in Florida.
“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said. “It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”
It was like, she continued “like my abuse didn’t count, that it wasn’t a big deal.”
Biles also criticized USA Gymnastics and the USOPC for their roles in creating “an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse.”
“I don’t 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,” Biles said.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse. USA gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge.”
Wray repeatedly apologized for the FBI’s mishandling of the Nassar case, which took place before he was named director in 2017.
“I want to be crystal clear. The actions and inaction of the FBI employees detailed in this report are totally unacceptable,” he said. “These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse. The work we do certainly is often complicated and uncertain.
“We’re never going to be perfect, but the kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should never have happened. Period. As long as I’m FBI director, I’m committed to doing everything in my power to make sure they never happen again.”
But both the gymnasts and senators said the FBI’s role in the Nassar cover-up sent a disturbing message to future victims of sexual and physical abuse.
“If allegations raised by well-known, world-class athletes are not taken seriously by the FBI, what hope do other victims of sexual assault have?” asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “If this monster was able to continue harming these women and girls after his victims first went to the FBI, how many other abusers have escaped justice? Again, if the FBI did so little in the investigation involving world-class athletes, what hope can an average American have? What faith can they have in the system?”