Sexual abuse of Olympic athletes: The FBI’s shocking, inexplicable failure

Sexual abuse of Olympic athletes: The FBI’s shocking, inexplicable failure

I’ve covered endless congressional hearings over the years, and nearly all of them drone on until everyone is awash in a sea of political bloviation.

As dazed reporters wait for a handful of usable quotes, lawmakers plow the same ground, again and again, punctuated by partisan finger-pointing, and witnesses repeat their defensive talking points.

So it came as something of a shock Wednesday to watch Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols talk about the gut-wrenching sexual abuse they suffered — and change our understanding of a story we thought we knew.

My sense is that their testimony gripped people watching on the three cable news networks, even in scandal-weary Washington. That’s what happened to me. It was painful to watch and impossible to look away.

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The depraved misconduct of this monster, Larry Nassar, the former Olympic team doctor, was no longer an abstraction. Here were his victims, saying that the trauma they suffered at his hands remains with them to this day, even as they compete at the highest level of their sport.

But it was the focus on the FBI and other agencies that came across like a slap in the face. Why had the bureau failed so badly? Why has a grand total of one FBI agent been fired? Why hasn’t anyone been prosecuted? Why is no one being held accountable?

Why has a grand total of one FBI agent been fired? Why hasn’t anyone been prosecuted? Why is no one being held accountable?

FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “deeply and profoundly sorry,” making no attempt to defend the inexcusable mistakes that happened before he took over. Republican and Democratic senators were appalled. But there were no real explanations for this miscarriage of justice.

Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins doesn’t mince words: “It’s time for a special prosecutor to probe this reeking, bottom-drawered, law enforcement coverup.”

The plain fact is the FBI did nothing for a year, during which time Nassar abused at least 70 and possibly as many as 120 more girls. That inaction — criminal neglect, in my view — cleared the way for this pedophile to claim many more victims. He’s now serving a prison term of at least 40 years.

The FBI did nothing for a year, during which time [Larry] Nassar abused at least 70 and possibly as many as 120 more girls.

Biles put it bluntly: “I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.” She said “the scars of this horrific abuse continue,” and “the impact of this man’s abuse will never be over.”

U.S. gymnasts, from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols are seen at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington about an Inspector General's report on the FBI's handling of the Larry Nassar investigation, Sept. 15, 2021. (Associated Press)

U.S. gymnasts, from left, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols are seen at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington about an Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation, Sept. 15, 2021. (Associated Press)

Raisman told the “Today” show that she described what happened to the FBI in graphic detail, but “the agent just kept diminishing my abuse and telling me that, you know, he didn’t feel it was that big of a deal and maybe I should drop the case.”

Maroney testified that she told an FBI agent by phone in 2015 about “all of my molestations in extreme detail.” And then “I cried, and there was just silence” on the agent’s part. Finally, he said, “Is that all?” The bureau, she said, then falsified her statement.

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“After six years of asking,” Jenkins writes, “where are the federal charges against those who knew about Nassar and did nothing, whose deliberate inaction let him victimize more women even after Maroney told everyone about him?”

“Instead, there have been mysterious refusals to pursue obvious crimes. A negligent if not corrupt FBI agent was allowed to retire with a pension despite lying to the inspector general.”

That’s appalling.

Two FBI agents in the Indianapolis office who did nothing about Maroney’s account were Michael Langeman and his boss, W. Jay Abbott. They didn’t even bother to write a report. Langeman was finally fired a few days ago, with the FBI knowing it would get hammered at the hearing. Abbott, who also lied to the bureau, retired. As the Post notes, the U.S. attorney at the time, Josh Minkler, has recently been representing Abbott.

It was a dogged local investigator in Michigan, not the feds, who wound up busting Nassar.

It was a dogged local investigator in Michigan, not the feds, who wound up busting Nassar.

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If Wray’s words of apology are to be anything but hollow, he needs to take more decisive action. A special prosecutor, who would also look at USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, would seem to be in order. Given the magnitude of the pedophilia here, how can anyone defend the lack of consequences?

But will this be a two-day story? Will the Hill just move on after a single hearing? Some female anchors have denounced this tragedy, but will everyone now just move on? If so, the pain suffered by Simone Biles, her teammates, and so many other young women will be exacerbated.

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