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Top Gymnasts Testify on FBI Failures to Investigate Nassar Abuse. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired September 15, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MCKAYLA MARONEY, ACCUSED NASSAR OF ABUSE: In closing, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the United States Senate, a very powerful institution that from the beginning has fought for us rather than against us. Thank you and I welcome any questions.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Thank you Ms. Maroney.
MAGGIE NICHOLS, ACCUSED NASSAR OF ABUSE: Chair Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I want to thank you for your commitments to athlete safety and holding accountable those responsible for athlete safety.
I was named as "Gymnast 2" in the Office of Inspector General's report and previously identified as "Athlete A" by USA Gymnastics. I want you to know this didn't happen to gymnast two or athlete A, it happened to me, Maggie Nichols.
I first started gymnastic when I was 3. And since I was a child I had a dream of competing for my country in the world championships and Olympic Games.
I was an elite level gymnast by the age of 13. By the time I was 14, I made the national team. I traveled internationally for four years attending competitions and in 2015 at the world championships, representing our country where I won a gold medal.
My Olympic dreams ended in the summer of 2015 when my coach and I reported Larry Nassar' abuse to USAG leadership. I went on to compete at the University of Oklahoma where I was named first team all American in the all-around in all four events and was an eight-time national champion.
I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics over six years ago, and so, my family and I received few answers and have even more questions about how this was allowed to occur and dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported.
In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI have all betrayed me and those who were abused by Larry Nassar after I reported.
The cover-up of my abuse and the FBI's failure to interview me for more than a year after my complaint are well documented in the OIG report. After I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics, my family and I were told by the former president, Steve Penny, to keep quiet and not say anything that could hurt the FBI investigation.
We now know there was no real FBI investigation occurring. While my complaints with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls. During this time the FBI issued no search warrants and made no arrest. From the day I reported my molestation by Larry Nassar, I was treated differently by USAG.
Not only did the FBI fail to conduct a thorough investigation, but they also knew that USAG and the USOPC created a false narrative where Larry Nassar was allowed to retire. With his reputation intact and return to Michigan state university, thus allowing dozens of little girls to be molested.
As the inspector general's report details during this time period, FBI agents did not properly document evidence, failed to report to proper authorities and the special agent in charge was seeking to become the new director of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, a job opportunity raised by Steve Penny.
Afterwards, FBI agents in charge of the investigation lied to OIG investigators about what had happened. This conduct by these FBI agents including the special agent in charge, who are held in high regard and expected to protect the public is unacceptable, disgusting and shameful. This committee produced a report in 2019 titled "The Courage of Survivors: A Call to Action."
It found that the U.S. Olympic Committee and USAG and the national governing body designated by USOC and amateur gymnastics that failed to adequately respond to credible allegations against Nassar. Similarly, the OIG report found that senior FBI officials lied to the inspector general, engaged in serious conflicts of interest and tried to cover up one of the biggest child sexual abuse scandals in the history of amateur sports.
Both reports uncovered serious and possible criminal misconduct by those at the highest level of the Olympic committee, our sport and the FBI. Despite these findings of serious and criminal misconduct throughout the FBI, USAG, and USOPC, no accountable has occurred.
An important question remains, perhaps the most important question. Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to OIG investigators?
[11:05:00] Why would the FBI not properly document evidence that was received? Why would the FBI agent be interested in the USAG presidency?
These questions remain unanswered. 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.
To date, no one from the FBI, the USOPC or USAG have faced federal charges other than Larry Nassar. For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice. We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.
DURBIN: Thank you, Ms. Nicholls.
ALY RAISMAN, ACCUSED NASSAR OF ABUSE: I want to begin by thanking the Judiciary Committee including Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley for their commitment to seeking the truth for the hundreds, if not thousands, who were systematically abused by Larry Nassar and for this committee's diligence to demand accountability regarding federal law enforcement's misconduct.
I also want to express my gratitude to the other brave survivors here today, my friends and my teammates, for sharing their stories and continuing to press for justice and reform. Over the past few years it has become painfully clear how a survivor's healing is affected the handling of their abuse, and it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.
In 2015, it was known that at least six national team athletes had been abused by Nassar. There was even one of the athletes that was abused on film. Given our abuser's unfettered access to children, stopping him should have been a priority. Instead, the following occurred.
The FBI failed to interview pertinent parties in a timely manner. It took over 14 months for the FBI to contact me despite my many requests to be interviewed by them. The records establish that Steve Penney, FBI agent Jay Abbott and their subordinates worked to conceal Nassar's crimes. Steve Penny arranged with the FBI to conduct my interview at the Olympic training center where I was under the control and observation of USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
The day of my interview, Steve Penny flew to the Olympic training center and he made sure I was aware he was there. I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar's plea deal. The agent diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel my criminal case wasn't worth pursuing. Special agent in charge of investigating Nassar met Steve Penny for beers to discuss job opportunities in the Olympic movement. Another FBI agent worked with Steve Penny to determine jurisdiction without interviews the survivors.
I watched multiple high ranking officials at USAG, USOPC and FBI resign or retire without explanation of how they may have contributed to the problem, some of whom were publicly thanked for their service and rewarded with severance or bonus money.
My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG, USOPC, but they were also mishandled by federal law enforcement officer who failed to follow their most basic duties. The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access. Steve Penny and any USAG employee could have walked a few steps to file a report with the Indiana Child Protective Services since they shared the same building.
Instead, they quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, knowingly allowing him to continue his work at MSU, Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club and even run for school board. Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest.
It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.
Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar's abuse long before it became public, although you wouldn't know that by reading their press releases which would have you and their corporate sponsors believe that athlete safety comes first.
We have called for a fully independent, factual investigation for years now because I and these women who sit before you know firsthand these organizations and their public statements are not to be trusted. They claim they want accountability but then seek to restrict which staff can be interviewed, which documents can be examined and claim attorney-client privilege over and over again. The so-called investigations these organizations orchestrated were not designed to provide the answers we so critically need.
Why are we left to guess why USAG and USOPC deliberately ignored reported abuse? Was it to protect the values of the sponsorships? The L.A. '28 bid? Their own jobs? To avoid criminal liability?
Perhaps, but why must we speculate when the facts are attainable and the stakes are so high? Why would duly sworn federal law enforcement officers ignore reports abuse of a doctor across state lines and country border, for a future job opportunity? Or were there additional incentives and pressures? Why must we speculate when the facts are obtainable and the stakes are so high?
Just as naive it is to assume that the problem only rests with Nassar, it's unrealistic to think we can grasp the full extent of culpability without understanding how and why USAG and USOPC chose to ignore abuse for decades, and why the interplay among these three organizations led the FBI to willingly disregard our reports of abuse. Without knowing who knew what when, we cannot identify all enables or determine whether they are still in positions of power. We just can't fix a problem we don't understand, and we can't
understand the problem unless and until we have all of the facts. If we don't do all we can to get these facts, the problems we are here to address will persist and we are deluding ourselves if we think other children can be spared the institutionalized tolerance and normalization of abuse that I and so many others had to endure.
I thank you for your time, your commitment and your genuine concern for those survivors who relied on the FBI to do the right thing. I welcome any questions and comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability. Thank you.
DURBIN: Thank you, Ms. Raisman.
I've been in a lot of committee hearing. I can't remember compelling testimony like we've heard this morning ever before because you had the courage to come up and tell the world what happened to you. It is heartbreaking to think what you have been through. I thank you for being here.
We have a job to do and we know it. It begins with this hearing. The accountability of the FBI and the Department of Justice and all of law enforcement when it comes to abuse cases such as those that you have endured personally.
But there is an historic element here in that your audience includes young people like yourself who are victims and survivors themselves.
I have one minute in questions. My questions to the panel and anyone who cares to respond. What would you say to other young athletes who may be suffering in silence or wrestling with the decision about whether to speak out? Ms. Raisman?
RAISMAN: Yeah, the first thing I would want to say to anybody that's watching that's suffering in silence or has been through something really traumatic is that I support them, I believe them and just be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, know that I'm struggling, too.
I'm still navigating how to heal from this. League is a roller coaster. Some days I feel better, some days I feel like I'm taking a bunch of steps backwards. That's okay. We're all human, all doing the best that we can.
But I would encourage whoever is out there that's listening to tell someone whenever they feel comfortable, and it's so important to have a good support system and a community around you. If you're someone out there that doesn't have a good support system, that's okay. Sometimes it can take some time to find a good support system.
So, I encourage you to not give up until you find that support that you deserve. And just remember that I believe you, I support you, you are not alone and I encourage you to ask for help.
DURBIN: Anyone else on the panel?
MARONEY: Yeah. I would just want to say that they need to know their abuse is enough. I think for so long, all of us questioned, that just because someone wasn't fully validating us, that we doubted what happened to us. That's always going to take the healing process take longer.
I think the second I gave that to myself is when I really began to heal and began to get my voice back. That took a long time. And I think to reach out to other survivors and speak to them and hear their stories is what continues to help me heal. Hearing all these girls speak is what continues to make me want to be here today and help others.
DURBIN: And you are.
MARONEY: Thank you.
DURBIN: Senator Grassley?
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Before I ask my first question, in regard to something Ms. Raisman raised, we haven't forgotten why these people haven't been prosecuted. It want to put in the record a letter I wrote the attorney general on July 16th to ask the justice department to reinvestigate the decision to not investigate the FBI employees who filed you and a lot of other that are not here as well.
DURBIN: Without objection.
GRASSLEY: Thank you very much. First of all, it's not enough just to commend you for your bravery of speaking out, but by your speaking out, you're helping not only young women, but wherever there might be the abuse that you talk about. And it's very difficult, I'm sure, in this public setting for you to speak to that, and we felt that from you speaking out about it. It's got to be a hard job, but thank you for coming forward.
So I'm going to ask questions of any one of you or all of you. You decide how you want to respond. I hope at least one person would speak up.
What can you tell Congress and the government witnesses testifying here today about the additional steps, if any, that we should take to ensure that we better protect child athletes?
And we heard from all of you about the agents and the FBI not doing its job or even lying to us. You heard about a bill I am proposing, but beyond those things, do you have anything you would like to add that Congress should hear from you to protect child athletes?
RAISMAN: I think it's really important to look at the connection between the FBI, USA Gymnastics and United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
We cannot believe there's a safer future for children unless we fully understand every single thing that happened. USA Gymnastics does say they've done investigations, but those were not completely independent, and the scope of the investigation matters.
Nobody should be off limits. Nothing should be off limits. It should go back decades. That has not been done and it's been something that we've been asking for for years and years.
So I personally would like to see all three organizations completely investigated and the scope of it matters. Until we know all the facts, it's just guesswork. I hope you guys feel the same way as I do, that if we're thinking about children going into gymnastics or sports, I don't want to be guessing that they're going to be okay. I want to know with 100 percent certainty that somebody that looked the other way for us isn't still in a position of power.
And so, I think the investigation is crucial. Until that, I don't have any faith that things will get better in the sport.
GRASSLEY: Okay. If no one else wants to go beyond that, I'll go to my last question. I hope this isn't something so sensitive you don't feel you can talk about it, but do you have any thoughts or inputs to share about Safe Sport, the national non-profit entity that has been tasked by Congress with handling allegations from amateur athletes?
RAISMAN: Yeah. I personally think Safe Sport is -- I'm trying to be respectful here. I don't -- I don't like Safe Sport. I hear from many survivors that they report their abuse and it's like playing hot potato where somebody kicks it over to somebody else and they don't hear back for a really long time. I think a really big issue is that Safe Sport is funded by USA Gymnastics or the United States Olympic Committee.
I'm not sure what the correct terminology is. If you're Safe Sport and you're funded by the organization that you're investigating, they're likely not going to do the right thing. I think it needs to be completely separate. I personally think Safe Sport needs a lot of work.
I know from many survivors -- my mom has personally reported things to Safe Sport, and we've followed up so many times. They say we can't help you or they either ignore us or pass it on to something else. The person they pass it on to, they kick it back to them. It's a complete mess.
And the priority doesn't seem to be safety and well-being of athletes. It seems to be protecting USA Gymnastics and doing everything to keep the PR good.
MARONEY: Yeah, I agree. Nobody really wants to be held accountable, and nobody really knows who to hold accountable. So I think in order to help, there needs to be a specific person who is in charge of protecting these athletes, and it falls on them when they're not. Instead of it being passed around and everyone being, oh, we don't know what happened, whose job was that? There needs to be a specific job for that. DURBIN: Thank you. I now call on Senator Leahy and remind my
colleagues we're trying to make this question period concise. So please do your best.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): I want to thank you all for having the courage to come here today. I can only imagine how painful it is to relive these experiences.
But I think the resilience, the perseverance you're showing the world today is incredibly admirable, and I hope that young survivors who see this, who feel powerless to tell their stories, will feel, yes, here is an example they should tell it. I think it has to be far more than just telling the stories.
Obviously, like Senator Durbin, I've been on this committee for a long time, and I cannot think of anything so moving. And I -- we're going to hear senators talk about accountability and justice today. But what does genuine accountability look like to you? When do you feel justice will be done for the injustices you suffered?
That really should be the question we have today. I'd like to hear from all of you on that. When do you feel justice will be done, and what does genuine accountability look like?
MARONEY: You want to try that one?
RAISMAN: Yeah, sure. First going back to -- I probably sound like a broken record, but I'm going to try, hopefully today will be the one that this time I say it, it actually happens.
But for me accountability looks like -- first of all, obviously this never should have happened. One time being abused is too many. One child being abused is too many. I think a complete and full independent investigation of the FBI, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
And then from there, then we will know the answers of who should be held accountable. I also think there needs to be -- when we think about a new USA Gymnastics or new United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, survivors need to be in the room. They need to feel -- we need to feel like we are not adversaries to USA Gymnastics, and we need to feel like our voices matter, that they care, that they want to actually be a part of the change that we so desperately want.
I think that it's -- I'm not trying to speak for them, but I imagine we all feel that it is crazy for me to try to wrap my head around, all we're asking for is when a child goes into gymnastics or goes to school or does anything, that they can be spared abuse. The fact that we've been treated like adversaries by so many organizations and our abuse has been diminished, we've been victim-shamed online over and over again, we've been gaslit, we've made to feel we don't matter by these organizations.
I never want another child to feel that way again. MyKayla Maroney mentioned this, all victims distrust how they feel. That's something I went through because the FBI made me feel like my abuse didn't count, like it wasn't a big deal. I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad.
It's taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter. I think it's really important to also have education and prevention in the sport as well. I don't see these organizations doing enough to have every single staff member, every single athlete, every single parent, guardian, every person that walks into a gym I believe should be educated to prevent and recognize emotional, physical, sexual, mental abuse everything in between. If we don't have an investigation and we don't have education and prevention, then this problem and this nightmare is going to keep happening over and over again.
LEAHY: Anybody else care to -- should I assume you all agree with that, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
LEAHY: So do I. Thank you very much.
DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Leahy.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Thank you, Senator, I just want to say --
SIMONE BILES, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: Sorry. Just one more to add, we also want to see them at least be federally prosecuted to the fullest extent because they need to be held accountable.
DURBIN: Thank you.
LEAHY: As a former prosecutor, I agree with that, thank you.
DURBIN: Senator Cornyn?
CORNYN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I, too, want to thank these four survivors joining us today. I want to tell you how much I respect and admire your courage and for sounding an alarm on a system that has abused and neglected you but was supposed to protect you. Your stories are difficult for you to tell I know, but it's extraordinarily important for us to hear it, as hard as it is for you and us to hear, because I believe that your courage will inspire a generation of women to speak out against those who have abused them.
I want you to know, we all want you to know we're very proud of your courage and the example you set for other young women. I sincerely hope your courage in speaking out will be a step toward righting the wrongs that have led to these injustices so we can ensure these mistakes will never, ever be repeated. So, thank you for shining a light on this issue and advocating for
victims across the country. As you know, you are not alone, because too often, those allegations are downplayed, slow-walked or ignored. So now our job is to make sure your sacrifices, your trauma and your nightmare have not been in vain. Thank you.
DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Cornyn.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
For me, this was a deja vu. I listened to these young women, I saw their courage, I saw their willingness to step forward. And I'm hopeful that we'll be able to take some action.
I would like to present a letter that sent to the chief executive officer of the United States for Safe Sport, which has eight specific things is on behalf of Senator Murray and myself. So if I may put that in --
DURBIN: Without objection.
FEINSTEIN: And I really hope that no one ever goes through the horrors that you have.