The Justice Department’s internal watchdog just released a damning report. It reveals just how badly the FBI botched its investigation of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who sexually abused hundreds of girls and women, and that senior officials within the Bureau sought to cover up their actions by lying to investigators.
The report says that the FBI, specifically the senior officials in the Indianapolis field office who handled the case, disregarded the serious nature of the allegations and the likelihood that his crimes were ongoing. In other words, they failed to stop Nassar when they knew there were many very similar allegations against him.
The Bureau didn’t begin to take the necessary actions until the Indianapolis Star published a story in September 2016 revealing allegations against Nassar. That was more than a year after USA Gymnastics first reported the allegations.
The report estimates that this delay allowed Nassar to sexually abuse 70 or more young athletes, though a lawyer for many of the victims says the number is likely even higher, about 120, and includes one as young as eight years old.
The FBI “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies” it reads.
Aside from the delay, the special agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office attempted “to minimize errors made by the Indianapolis Field Office in connection with the handling of the Nassar allegations” by lying to investigators. The cover-up, in this case, was not worse than the crime. But it certainly deserved investigation and, now that the facts are known, some kind of discipline.
For its part, the FBI expressed contrition: “This should not have happened…The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization.” Of course, those words ring hollow when you learn that the Justice Department declined to prosecute the special agent in charge and another unnamed special agent for lying to investigators.
That doesn’t sit well with at least one of Nassar’s victims. Former gymnast Jessica Howard appeared on CBS to call for those in the FBI who were responsible for the delays and obfuscation to suffer the consequences of their actions.
“I want Congress to get involved. I want the DOJ to get involved. I want a special prosecutor. I want agents who were not, maybe not even mentioned in the report, but you cannot tell me that between USA Gymnastics in the U.S. Olympic Committee and in the FBI that it was only these one or two bad players. That’s what they’ve said about Larry, absolutely not true. He’s the only one in prison,” she said.
The FBI’s intransigence and its reticence to punish those involved raises disturbing questions about the culture at the Bureau. Why were agents fine with leaving a suspected abuser in a position to keep abusing? If the Star hadn’t broken the news, would they have done anything? And if failing to protect dozens of children from a predator and then lying to investigators about it isn’t grounds for prosecution, then what is?