WASHINGTON – Simone Biles and three fellow gymnasts offered gut-wrenching testimony to Congress on Wednesday, describing the abuse they suffered at the hands of doctor Larry Nassar and charging the FBI “turned a blind eye” as he molested young female patients.
Biles blamed USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympics committee and the FBI for the long-running abuse by the doctor, who molested girl and women athletes under the guise of medical treatments. At times, the 24-year-old superstar’s voice quivered as she tied her mental health difficulties at the Tokyo Olympics this summer directly to the trauma of Nassar’s 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 told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as she fought back tears. “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
Biles, the world’s most accomplished gymnast, won a bronze medal in balance beam at the Olympics this summer but withdrew from most of the competition, citing mental duress.
Talking about her training for and participation in the Tokyo Games, she said: “The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us.”
Biles said she could think of no place more uncomfortable for her to be than before lawmakers and television cameras in the hearing room, testifying publicly about the abuse. She said she came to the Senate “so that no little girl must endure” what she and her fellow gymnasts did.
“We have been failed, and we deserve answers,” she said. “It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us,” to protect the Olympic and gymnastics organizations.
More than a year after the allegations against Nassar were first brought to the FBI in 2015, he was arrested and charged by state officials. In the interim, Nassar is estimated to have abused at least 70 more athletes, according to a devastating report issued in July by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Nassar’s victims say the figure is even higher, at 120.
Nassar, who treated athletes for both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, is now serving the equivalent of a life term in federal prison.
McKayla Maroney, another former Olympian, offered haunting details of being sexually assaulted by Nassar, including an incident in Japan a decade ago when she was 15. At the time, she said, she thought he would kill her.
“That evening I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours,” Maroney told the hushed hearing room.
Maroney said Nassar molested her in London in 2012 just before she won an Olympic gold medal. While Biles’s testimony was heartbreaking and faltering at times, Maroney’s tone shifted from sheer horror to simmering fury at how the FBI disregarded her account.
“I told the FBI all of this, and they chose to falsify my report, and to not only minimize my abuse but silence me yet again,” she said. “It took them 14 months to report anything, when Larry Nassar – in my opinion – should have been in jail that day.”
Two other former gymnasts, Maggie Nichols, 24, and Aly Raisman, 27, also testified about their experiences, condemning the FBI and the sport’s overseers for letting Nassar quietly continue to see patients even after authorities had been told what he was doing.
“It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” Raisman said.
Opening the hearing, Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called the botched investigation “a stain on the bureau” that paints “a shocking picture of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who testified after the gymnasts, offered them a robust public apology.
“I want to begin by saying to the brave women testifying this morning . . . I am deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you,” he said. “I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”
Wray confirmed that Michael Langeman, the agent who interviewed Maroney and did much of the early investigative work on Nassar, has been fired, as The Washington Post first reported Tuesday.
“On no planet is what happened in this case acceptable,” Wray said, adding that FBI officials “are going to make damn sure that everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail. We need to remember the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their jobs.”
Durbin criticized the Justice Department for not sending officials to the hearing to explain why they decided not to prosecute either Langeman or his former boss, Jay Abbott, whom Horowitz concluded had lied about their work on the Nassar case.
“It is outrageous,” said Durbin, calling it “obvious that these agents were not only derelict in their duty when it came to young women, did their best to cover up what happened, and that is inexcusable.”
The senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, echoed that complaint and called the case “a serious problem at the heart of the FBI, not a case of a few errant agents.”
After the hearing, the gymnasts were asked what else they would like to see happen, and for most of them the answer was simple: Indictments of the FBI agents and anyone else who enabled Nassar’s abuse.
“We all deserve more than just words,” Raisman said.
Justice Department policy is to generally avoid a public discussion of why prosecutors decide not to file criminal charges in specific cases. An agency spokesman declined to comment.
Wray, who became director after the FBI conduct at issue in the Nassar case, has pledged to make significant changes to how agents pursue investigations involving sex crimes against children.
The inspector general’s report harshly criticized Langeman – without naming him – and Abbott for their handling of the Nassar case, saying the FBI failed to pursue it and then lied to IG investigators when confronted with those failures.
Langeman declined to comment on Tuesday.
The report found “numerous and fundamental errors” in the FBI’s handling of the case, that agents violated multiple FBI policies, and that the Indianapolis office never even opened an investigation or assessment on Nassar when the allegations were brought to them.
Horowitz wrote that while the supervisory special agent interviewed a gymnast in 2015 about her claims of Nassar’s abuse, he did not write up a formal report of that interview, known as a “302,” until 17 months later. Maroney said even that report was fundamentally inaccurate.
Horowitz also found that while the FBI was dealing with the Nassar allegations in late 2015, Abbott – then the head of the bureau’s Indianapolis office – talked to Steve Penny, then-president of USA Gymnastics, about getting Abbott a job with the Olympic Committee.
The inspector general said Abbott applied for the job but did not get it, and when confronted about it later, falsely claimed to have not applied for the job. Abbott retired from the FBI amid the internal investigation.
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The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke contributed to this report.