The Justice Department’s independent inspector general released a scathing report Wednesday revealing a cascade of failures by the FBI in its investigation of former U.S. Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar that enabled him to abuse dozens of other athletes.
The watchdog blamed two FBI field offices in Indianapolis and Detroit for “limited follow-up” on the initial allegations made in 2015, saying the agents there “did not take any action to mitigate the risk to gymnasts that Nassar continued to treat.”
The end result was 70 more athletes being subjected to sexual abuse “under the guise of medical treatment,” the report said.
John Manly, a lawyer for Nassar’s victims, said that number is “incorrect,” and that the count should be more than 120 gymnasts.
“This is a devastating indictment of the FBI and the Department of Justice that multiple federal agents covered up Nassar’s abuse and child molestation. No one seems to give a damn about these little girls,” he said.
One survivor, Emma Ann Miller, now 18, who was molested during treatment sessions with Nasser as a competitive dancer in Michigan between the summers of 2015 and 2016, told The Daily Beast that she and other victims were well aware of the FBI’s failures.
“I think that all the girls and all the survivors and I knew this from the start, that the FBI did not do enough at all,” Miller said. “I think it’s kind of crazy because living in the U.S., everyone thinks that the FBI is supposed to be there to protect us—especially children who aren’t really able or old enough to be able to protect themselves yet... They failed multiple women and girls for years.”
Miller said she’s hopeful that those who mishandled the investigation will be held accountable. Her mother, Leslie Miller, agreed.
“I just think that criminal charges need to be brought to each one of the individuals who failed to protect our children, our athletes, and others that were affected by this,” Leslie Miller said. “Survivors should never have to fight to be heard.”
Army of Survivors, an organization that advocates for athletes who have been victims of sexual abuse and was founded by victims of Nassar, said in a statement, “It is unacceptable that multiple institutions, including the FBI, have failed to this extent and have put their selfishness above the wellbeing of young athletes.”
U.S.A. Gymnastics first reported allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar in July 2015. In September 2016, Michigan State University Police raided his house in response to dozens of complaints of sexual abuse and discovered thousands of pieces of child pornography. The 14-month delay by the FBI left Nassar free to continue seeing patients.
The report lays blame on the FBI field agents for not only disregarding the initial allegations but also making “materially false statements” in a bid to cover up their own mistakes.
The Indianapolis field office, and particularly its head supervisory special agent Jay Abbott, were cited in the report for “numerous and fundamental errors.” Abbott summarized an interview with one of Nassar’s earliest reporting victims, a person only identified as “Gymnast 1,” more than 17 months after the fact, and Abbott’s summary included several lies, according to the report. Abbott also lied to the inspector general’s office during two separate interviews in the course of the investigation into the FBI’s failures, the report states.
Abbott also spoke with the then-president of U.S.A. Gymnastics at the same time his office was fielding accusations against Nassar, a glaring conflict of interest. Abbott wanted a job on the Olympic Committee, which he eventually applied for but did not receive.
According to the report, after more than eight months of inaction, the FBI’s Los Angeles field office was made aware of allegations against Nassar. The office began to investigate, but it ultimately failed to notify the FBI in Lansing, state authorities, or local police of the allegations. The misstep led to more delays and allowed Nassar further freedom to abuse young athletes, according to the report.
Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to make allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar publicly, excoriated the FBI in a statement: “Had the FBI done their job I never would have been put in the position of having to relinquish every shred of privacy to stop the abuse and coverup.”
In particular, she lambasted the FBI’s delays in investigating that led to further abuse by Nassar: “The dozens of little girls abused after the FBI knew who Larry was and exactly what he was doing, could have and should have been saved. They deserve answers.”
Assistant FBI Director Douglas Leff said in a statement Wednesday that the agency would make changes in response to the report: “The actions and inactions of the FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization and the values we hold dear.”
Nassar, who worked as a physician at Michigan State University from 1996 to 2016, was arrested in November 2016 on state sexual abuse charges in Michigan, followed shortly after by federal child pornography charges. He pled guilty to child pornography and tampering with evidence in 2017 and ten counts of sexual assault of minors in 2018 at trials that saw more than 100 alleged victims confront him in court. More than 300 women and girls have accused him of sexually abusing them. In all, Nassar was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison without parole, effectively a life sentence.
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who is leading Team USA in the Tokyo Games later this month, said she was among Nassar’s victims and has repeatedly spoken out about issues regarding how gymnasts’ concerns were handled. Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney have also accused him of abuse.
Nassar’s abuse of hundreds of young women ensnared other high-profile figures within the gymnastics world. Multiple victims described situations in which authority figures dismissed their accounts of abuse because they could not fathom such conduct by a well-known figure. Steve Penny, the former U.S.A. Gymnastics head, was arrested in 2017 for tampering with evidence related to Nassar’s abuse, and his successor resigned in 2018 over criticism of the organization’s handling of the allegations.
U.S.A. Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in 2018 after more than 300 gymnasts sued the organization, alleging it failed to shield them from harm. A congressional report found that members of the U.S. Olympic Committee failed to act on evidence they had received of Nassar’s abuse.