Nassar, who is currently serving a 40 to 175-year prison sentence for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, was accused of abuse by more than 150 women – including Ms Biles and fellow gymnast stars Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols, who also testified on Wednesday (15 September).
The Senate Judiciary Committee is looking into the allegations made against Nassar in 2015, and a Department of Justice Inspector General’s report released in July that found Indianapolis FBI officers did not respond to allegations made by more than 100 athletes “with the utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required”.
The report suggested the FBI office did “limited follow-up” following the claims of abuse against Nassar, and that he continued to work with young athletes for a year after complaints were raised.
In this time, according to the report, he allegedly abused more than 70 young athletes who were under his medical care.
The publication of the report also saw the dismissal of one FBI agent as part of an internal investigation into the abuse allegations.
Hello and welcome to today’s coverage of the Larry Nassar hearing.
FBI criticised over investigation
Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee targeted the FBI with harsh criticism at Wednesday’s hearing, accusing the agency of gross mismanagement of the Larry Nassar investigation.
Multiple lawmakers teed off on the agency over revelations indicating that at least one agent on the investigation was actively pursuing a job with USA Gymnastics while participating in the investigation; various field offices were also lambasted for slow-walking the transfer of evidence and taking claims of Mr Nasser’s crimes seriously.
“It’s not only that the FBI failed to do its job, systematically and repeatedly. It is also the cover-up,” said Sen Richard Blumenthal.“This investigation was mismanaged from coast-to-coast,” he added.
Tearful Simone Biles speaks at Larry Nassar hearing
Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, was driven to tears during her emotional and raw opening statement labeling Larry Nasser as her abuser and the broader US gymnastics and Olympic spheres as responsible for allowing the crimes to continue.
Her opening statement came before other powerful messages from Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney.
“[T]he organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete, USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, failed to do their jobs,” she said.
“I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others endured...in the wake of the Larry Nasser abuse,” she said, before pausing and saying tearfully: “I blame Larry Nasser, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
Maroney: FBI buried our reports of abuse
McKayla Maroney accused the FBI of covering up the reports of sexual abuse that she and others made about Larry Nasser, adding to the damaging allegations the agency chose to leave unaddressed by not attending Wednesday’s hearing.
Ms Maroney questioned during her opening statement why any survivor of abuse would report crimes to the FBI knowing that the agency tried to “bury [her] report in a drawer”.
"What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?” she asked.
"They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing,” Ms Maroney said, adding: "USA Gymnastics in concert with the FBI and the Olympic Committee were working together to conceal that Larry Nassar was a predator.”
Gymnasts call for investigation of FBI, USA Gymnastics, US Olympic team
Asked by Sen Patrick Leahy, a veteran member of the committee, what actions would be sufficient to achieve justice for the hundreds of survivors of Mr Nasser’s abuse, Aly Raisman explained that every aspect of how the claims of sexual abuse were investigated needed to be looked at by an independent probe.
“When do you feel justice will be done, and what will genuine accountability look like?” asked the senator.
“I think a complete and full independent investigation of the FBI, USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee [is necessary],” Ms Raisman explained.
“And then from there, we should know the answers of who should be held accountable,” she added.
After Ms Maroney concluded her answer, Simone Biles added: “we want to see them...federally prosecuted to the fullest extent”, a statement with which Mr Leahy said he agreed.
Raisman says she felt ‘pressured’ by FBI to accept Nassar’s plea deal
Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman said that FBI agents “pressured” her into consenting to a plea deal that Larry Nasser reached with prosecutors before his sentencing in early 2017, when he received 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.
She added that "[t]he FBI and others within both [USA Gymnastics] and [the US Olympic Committee] knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access.”
“I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar’s plea deal,” she said. “The agent diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel like my criminal case wasn’t worth pursuing.”
She noted that an FBI agent overseeing the case met the then-CEO of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, for beers.
Members of federal law enforcement “failed to follow their most basic duties”, said Ms Raisman in her opening statement.
Lawmakers express displeasure over DOJ officials declining to attend
Multiple times throughout Wednesday's hearing the FBI and Justice Department found themselves the targets of criticism over the way Larry Nassar’s federal investigation was handled, and faced additional disdain from lawmakers after top DOJ officials declined to attend.
Chief among lawmakers’ questions for the agencies was why two FBI agents for whom criminal referrals were issued by the agency’s Office of Inspector General were not prosecuted as advised, and faced no legal repercussions for making false statements about the investigation.
"They actually manufactured statements. They lied about what survivors told them. Ultimate abuse of authority,” said Sen Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, who had some of the harshest criticism of the day for the bureau.
“Those [criminal referrals] were declined, without any explanation, without any public explanation at all,” he continued, adding to the gymnasts: “My hope is that the Department of Justice which was invited today and declined to appear will match your courage by explaining why those lies by FBI agents did not lead to criminal prosecution.”
“The Department of Justice “owe the American people and you an explanation,” the senator went on to assert.
Maroney describes how male FBI agent dismissed her emotional account of sexual assault
McKayla Maroney grew emotional during the hearing as she recounted her experience of trying to explain to a male FBI agent, who she described as dismissive and uncaring, how she was sexually assaulted over the phone only for him to respond, “is that all?”
"I began crying at the memory over the phone, and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma. After that minute of silence, he asked: 'Is that all?'" she recounted.
Her account and others drew criticism from Sen Chris Coons and others who questioned why the girls had been forced to speak to FBI agents alone; Sen Martha Blackburn, one of two women on the committee, also asked whether they had been offered the opportunity to speak with female agents.
Simone Biles, Ms Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols all responded that they were told to speak with male agents, though some indicated that female agents were present at some times.
Nichols describes how FBI ‘betrayed’ Nassar’s victims
Gymnast Megan Nichols used her prepared statement to point out black marks on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation, including how her own interview took place more than a year after her initial complaint was filed.
“While my complaints with the FBI [were ongoing], Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls. During this time, the FBI issued no search warrants and made no arrests,” she said.
“USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar,” Ms Nichols added.
Maggie Nichols testifies about FBI agents ignoring reports of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse of USA gymnasts: "The survivors of Larry Nassar have a right to know why their well-being was placed in jeopardy by these individuals who chose not to do their jobs." pic.twitter.com/Tv62SLKjue— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 15, 2021
FBI director claims agency is still ‘gold standard’ of law enforcement, apologizes to Nassar victims
FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency while admitting to past “mistakes” after Wednesday’s hearing resumed following a break for lunch, and offered an apology to Simone Biles and the other women who testified before the Senate committee about the FBI’s conduct.
“I too believe the FBI is the gold standard,” Mr Wray said, responding to a question from Texas Sen John Cornyn, while adding that he believed the FBI’s “brand” remained intact due to its ability to learn from mistakes.
“We have made some real doozies of mistakes over 113 years,” he added. “What I would say to those women is that I’m so deeply for sorry for what our folks did and more importantly didn’t do back in 2015.”
Mr Wray said that the best thing he could do was use the women’s criticism “constructively”, adding that he and others at the FBI were “focused on learning from this”.