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At This Hour

Top Gymnasts Testify on FBI Failures to Investigate Nassar Abuse. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 11:30   ET



SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I really hope that no one ever goes through the horrors that you have experienced. And I hope that when, and I believe we will take action, that this is enough for you to put this behind you in your life and that you can lead a life that is just as full and happy as is possible and that we do our job and see that we prevent this from ever happening again.

So, I just want to thank you so much. I've had the occasion to sit down with you, at least two of you, around my conference table, and see the tear ss. And those days are now behind. And I'm convinced that the Senate will act. And I thank you so much because you have played a big role, if and when we do, in making it happen. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks, Senator Feinstein. Senator Cruz?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank each of you for being here. Being here this morning was not easy. Each of you inspire millions across the globe. Millions look to your athletic achievements. You have all stood on the biggest stages of the world and done extraordinary things, things that take your breath away, that amaze children and adults. And you were able to do that through tens of thousands of hours of incredible hard work. And yet that work pales compared to the courage it took to come here today and to tell your story publicly.

You could have stayed silent. You could have avoided the scrutiny, the pain, and I will say watching you testify this morning, you could see the pain in each of you sharing that story. But that courage that you've demonstrated by going public, by reporting this abuse, by shining a light, that courage matters, and it's making a difference in the lives of others.

The system failed you. What happened to you was grotesque. It was criminal, it was abusive, it was evil. I'm the father of two little girls who are both athletes, not at the level of each of you but what you experienced is every parent's nightmare, that when you entrust your child to coaches or doctors or trainers, you're trusting that your kids will be taken care of, not that they will be abused and targeted.

And so I want to thank you. I want to thank you for calling out the abuse, calling out the system that failed you, and that system needs to change. That system needs to be held accountable so that this doesn't happen again. I want to thank you for the kids that won't face abuse because of your courage. And each of you, Aly, Maggie, McKayla, Simone, and I'll say, Simone, you're a Texan and a Houstonian, and the entire state of Texas is immensely proud of you, and proud of all of you.

And I've got to say, right now, at home there's a little girl or a little boy who is watching this, who may be facing their own personal hell, may be facing abuse, whether in sports in some other context, a monster who is doing unspeakable things to them. And that little girl, that little boy, I hope sees your courage and realizes that she can come forward and say something too, that he can call out the person who is hurting them. So, thank you for your courage. It makes an enormous difference.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator Cruz. Senator Whitehouse.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Thanks, Chairman Durbin. I want to first thank our colleague, Senator Blumenthal, who has been so persistent in this for so long. And thank you and the ranking member, Senator Grassley, for holding this hearing.

I want to compliment all of our witnesses for the stunning clarity and grace of your testimony here. Your quest for accountability is 100 percent justified, and thank you for pursuing it. We will endeavor to help you in that pursuit.

It is astonishing and disturbing how many adults let you down and failed at one of the most basic responsibilities of adulthood, which so to look out for children, take care of them, behave properly and hear and trust them.


So, I guess on behalf of adults everywhere, we owe you an apology.

But what you've done today is impressive and it will make a difference and I'm grateful to you for stepping up the way you have.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator Whitehouse.

Senator Hawley is on via WebEx. You will see him on the screen momentarily, I hope. Senator Hawley?

Well, perhaps Senator Cotton is on virtually? We're going to search the ether. Senator Cotton? Well, in their absence, Senator Klobuchar.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Excellent. Thank you very much, all of you. And like my colleagues, I want to express my gratitude to you. As a fellow Minnesotan, I am particularly grateful to you, Maggie, for sharing your story with the committee today. All of you, and the other women and girls who make up the gymnastics community continue to inspire us. I was one of the geeks that was up at about 4:00 A.M. watching this live, watching the Olympics live this time.

And to think when you fall off the balance beams and you get back on or you grab those bars when you still have an injury or you perform some floor exercise that no one knows was possible, to all of us that are watching, to us, that is the courage, something we could never imagine doing.

But the real courage is what you're doing today. Your bravery is on full display. As a former prosecutor, like some of my colleagues, I know firsthand, I've seen it, how hard it is to testify before a room of strangers.

And this time, you're doing it in front of the U.S Senate. And what you're doing is, of course, part of your own healing, but it is also part of healing for kids you're never going to meet, little girls and boys, that maybe are aware of your fame and what you've done, but may not ever be aware of what you are doing today.

And I think you have heard it from so many of my colleagues that have been leading on these bills, and I've been proud to co-sponsor them, but more must be done, more oversight, more accountability. By coming forward today, you are going to make that difference so we can make sure on your behalf that this never happens again.

Thank you, Simone, McKayla, Maggie and Aly, for representing the women and girls of USA Gymnastics so well on the world stage but most importantly so well today. Thank you.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator Klobuchar. We're going to try one more time with Senator Cotton. Are you with us?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Yes, I'm here, Mr. Chairman.

DURBIN: Please proceed.

COTTON: Thank you. I want to also take a moment to thank each of the witnesses appearing this morning. The four of you have done remarkable things in your lives. You've been patriotic competitors, dedicated athletes, good role models, and you've represented the United States of America expertly on the global stage, but perhaps even more impressive is the courage that each of you has displayed in coming forward about the abuse you faced. And in doing so, you weren't just taking on one terrible abuser, but potentially facing down an entire system.

This isn't the first time that we've had hearings on this issue. In 2017-2018, the Senate heard from others who faced similar abuse, including Jordyn Weaver, who was a teammate to several of you and is now the head coach of University of Arkansas Gymnastics, of whom we're also extremely proud.

Unfortunately, the system failed the very women it was supposed to protect. The report by Inspector General Horowitz makes clear that there are individuals whose inaction, incompetence and, worse, enabled that system and who should be held accountable. So, I look forward to hearing from Director Wray and the inspector general about how that will be remedied. And I once again thank each of you for coming before the committee and sharing your stories today.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Cotton. Senator Coons.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Thank you, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, thank you for holding this hearing.

Each of you are adults now.


You are grown women. You've demonstrated your strength, your determination, your persistence in testifying here today. But as we all know, in terrible detail, you were victimized as young girls, and we have failed you. The United States Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, those in federal law enforcement who were responsible for taking your horrible testimony and translating it into prompt and decisive action to protect other children and to secure justice for you.

Thank you for the courage it takes to testify and to insist on justice. Thank you to Senator Blumenthal and Senator Moran for your persistent and effective engagement in this. We will next turn to hearing the director of the FBI and the inspector general about what has been found by the inspector general and what action will be taken next.

I just want to briefly share with you one of the most concerning parts of what you shared with us today was about your initial interviews with the FBI, where it was conducted, how it was conducted, that you were left alone as a teenage girl to have an interview by phone with an FBI agent who somehow suggested what you were testifying to wasn't horrific, or tried to persuade you that it wasn't that bad, or under a circumstance made it clear to you that the person responsible for USA Gymnastics might be present and might have somehow compromised that interview. The whole way in which all of your interviews were conducted was just awful.

Now, sadly, that's been the experience for millions of victims of child sexual abuse over decades in the United States. And the positive thing I just wanted to share with you today is that for years now, there has been a national network of child advocacy centers. There's one in each county in my state, which brings together trauma-informed child welfare professionals and law enforcement to make sure the victims are only interviewed once, that they're interviewed in appropriate settings, that they're interviewed in a way that respects and recognizes the trauma and the abuse they've suffered and that ensures that your horrible experiences in terms of those initial interviews, and it's been compounded by your having to testify and speak again and again, we are working on that system.

Senator Blunt and I will soon reintroduce a bill that will reauthorize this and double the funding for it. There's a national network of 880 of these child advocacy centers all over the country. So I just wanted to share with you and with any victim of abuse or the families who know about their child's abuse who might be watching, that what happened to you should not and need not happen again. There are professional trauma-informed child welfare-centered opportunities around the country to seek justice. And, Ms. Maroney, I can see what I've just said has particularly impacted you.

Thank you all four of you for your courage, your persistence and your demands for justice. Thank you.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Coons. I believe Senator Blumenthal will be next.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Thanks, Mr. Chairman. My thanks again. You are really heroes and stars and role models for many young men and women around the country. And your courage obviously is impressive to all of us on this committee, but so is your grace and daring, your athleticism, your grace and daring as people and your determination not to be defined by the abuse you suffered and to seek help, which should be also a model to others.

A number of you have made reference to the therapy that you have sought which also takes courage. But you have been involved in a sport that often involves injuries, physical injuries, and the abuse you suffered involves emotional injuries that you are seeking to treat, as you would any physical injury.

I would like to ask you, I know at least one of the athletes was abused after July 2015. Let me just ask each of you, you can answer yes or no, whether you know of athletes that were abused by Larry Nassar after July 2015, during the 18-month period when the FBI did nothing.


You can just say yes, you do. If you want to tell me how many, if you know. If not, just yes or no. Ms. Biles?


MCKAYLA MARONEY, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: Yes, Kaylee Lorincz is here today, and she was abused after I spoke out.

ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: Yes. Yes. I've met many of them and I also just want to be clear that in the time that I had reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics, I followed up many, many times. My mom would follow up for me a lot of the time because I'm sure, as you can imagine, it was so hard for me, but also I was so scared because of the positions of power.

And we followed up so many times and we were constantly told that they were working on it. The most important thing was to keep it confidential, not to tell anyone. They even told me not really to talk about it with McKayla Maroney, give her breathing room. And so I thought that it was being handled.

And so I can't express to you, when you're told by the president of USA Gymnastics at the time, Steve Penny, that they're handling it, they got it. I didn't know they were going to mishandle it and cover it up, like they have. And when they're telling me they're talking to FBI and they should be reaching out soon, I, unfortunately, believed them. And I can't tell you how horrifying it is to meet young girls who look up to me, who watched me compete in the Olympics and tell me that they went to see Nassar because of me and my teammates, because they wanted to see the Olympic doctor. And I guess in his office, Nassar's office, he had some photos of us. And so they went to see him because they thought it was so cool to have the same doctor as us.

And so that's been one of the hardest and most devastating parts for me, is so many survivors suffer with guilt and shame. And so it takes everything I have to work on not taking the blame for that, because it is -- it's horrific and it's horrible to meet them and to know that over 100 victims could have been spared the abuse, if all we needed was one adult to do the right thing.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator Blumenthal. Senator Hirono.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join all of my colleagues in thanking each of you for coming forward. And we know there are young kids who look up to you as the fantastic athletes and gymnasts that you are, but as they get older, I hope they realize the courage that so many of us -- I use that word, courage, you coming forward to tell us your stories and the experiences of horrific abuse that you suffered.

I think all people who have suffered abuse, it is really hard for them to even talk to anybody, to talk to anybody about it. And it was hard enough for you to report your abuse, to be very specific about what happened to you, but then to be shunted aside, to get the feeling that the people that you relied on to do their jobs, that they thought it was not a big deal, I think that compounds the horrific abuse that you experienced.

So, you're right to demand better from the FBI, the USA Gymnastics, and others, including us in this hearing today, and to show people that reports of abuse should be taken seriously. And those who come forward, as you did, should be believed, period. So your courage and shining a light on a culture of complicity, exploitation and abuse of power inspire others to come forward.

And so I acknowledge how much courage it took for you to report in the first place, to have to undergo that horrifying experiences, once again, to tell perfect strangers what happened to you and to not be taken seriously, and that is what we need to change. And you have to undergo therapy.


But you know what, the main thing is that we should prevent these kinds of abuses from happening in the first place and that is where -- and, of course, if it happens, we need to hold people who will abuse accountable. Thank you so much for coming forward.

DURBIN: Thanks Senator Hirono. We probably have another 10 or 15 minutes, and I don't know if we need a break now or want to go straight through to the end. Anybody looking for a break?


DURBIN: You're good? Great. Senator Booker?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you as well for being here today. It took tremendous courage. I'm not sure how many people fully realize the burden on survivors in America to come forward and recall what happened to them. It is, in a sense, not just recalling the trauma and the violence and the pain, but it is, as you well know, being forced to relive it. And for that, I'm deeply grateful that you would sit here in a room of strangers in front of powerful people and, again, relive that trauma.

And I also know you didn't come here for our kind words or our proudness or our empathy. You came here for justice. You came here for action. You've heard words literally for years. And you're still fighting. You're fighting against a systemic problem in our country that isn't just in sports. We've seen it from church institutions to the Boy Scouts. When you talk about pedophilia all the way to sexual assault, we see it in diners, workplaces, factory floors.

And you all as athletes are doing something in a tradition that is, to me, what has helped to call the conscience of our country forward and expand our moral imagination to stop injustices of other sorts from people who endured outrageous, realities like Billie Jean King, who used platforms not to try to get individual attention but to try to change this nation and make it more just.

And so I'm grateful we are at a point where we have such bipartisan determination in this town. It's not often enough, but here we have bipartisan determination of some of my most respected colleagues to deliver what you really came for, which is action. I say that to tell you also that we all know that the road to change, real change, systemic change, not just in sport but in our culture that seems to tolerate such a high level of this sort of violence. That is going to take time.

And there's one saying that always rings in my head, that the only thing necessary for injustice to continue is for good people to do nothing. And you all have seen that firsthand. And so I've heard you before be asked the question by media to even in this institution today, be asked the question, do you have any words for other survivors. I would like to simply ask the question of you to answer to put the point and the light where it belongs. It shouldn't take something directly happening to us to trigger our empathy and our action.

And maybe I would like to know if you have any words for Americans who amidst a country where this violence happens every single day, is there something you'd like to say to us, who all have to understand that we are playing a part in a culture that allows this to happen? RAISMAN: I would like to say that I personally don't think that people realize how much experiencing a type of abuse is not something one just suffers in the moment. It carries on with them sometimes for the rest of their lives. For example, being here today is taking everything I have. My main concern is I hope I have the energy even to just walk of here.

I don't think people realize how much it affects us, how much the PTSD, how much the trauma impacts us.


And for every survivor, it's different. Healing looks different for every survivor. The aftermath looks very different. For me, just to paint a picture, I used to train some days seven hours a day when I was training for the Olympics and processing my abuse affected me so much. And it is still something I struggle with that I can remember when I first shared my story publicly for a very, very long time, I didn't even have the energy to stand up in the shower. I would have to sit on the floor and wash my hair because standing up was too exhausting for me. I couldn't even go for a ten-minute walk outside. And this is someone I've competed in two Olympic Games.

And there are times where I feel like I forget what I'm saying. I feel like my mind isn't working. I feel like I have no energy at all. I'm 27 years old. And my 80-year-old grandfather has more energy than I do. And I've often wondered is this -- am I ever going to feel better? And it has affected my health. In the last couple of years, I've had to be taken in an ambulance because I passed out. And I'm so sick from just the trauma. And it might not even be after a hearing like this. It just hits me out of the blue.

And so I think it's important for people to understand how much -- you know, even if we're not crying, how much we are all struggling and how much survivors are suffering, because people often say, well, why did you just come forward now? Because it's terrifying to come forward, the fear of not being believed, but also because it affects us so much, and sometimes it's impossible just to say the words out loud.

And so I just want people to know, and I'm sure for a lot of us, especially myself, like this might take me months to recover. And so I just wanted to make that clear, because I think it's important for people to start recognizing you may never know what someone else is going through. But for people who have been through trauma, it's really hard. And if someone's watching this that is feeling really tired that is a survivor and doesn't know why they're having certain issues that are new, just know that you're not alone and I experience the same thing. And hopefully in time we can feel better.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Booker. I believe Senator Blackburn is available by WebEx. Senator?

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Because of limited bandwidth, I will just do this by voice. But I want to say a thank you to each of the women for being there today and the power of their stories and their words. Three quick questions -- DURBIN: Senator Blackburn, can you hear us?

BLACKBURN: Yes, I can hear you.

DURBIN: We missed your three questions.

BLACKBURN: Yes, three questions. Number one, what are the reforms that you would like to see take place? Number two, if you do not trust safe sport, then what we would like to know is who is a trustworthy or is there an organization or an individual that has your trust to be the go-to? And the third thing, did the FBI ever offer you a female agent who could walk with you through this process?

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Blackburn. I'm going to let the panel respond to you. And we have two more witnesses -- pardon me, two more members after you. Thank you.

MARONEY: I never had a female agent alongside me. I'm sorry that I'm not answering more questions, like after telling that story, I just -- I'm exhausted.

DURBIN: Understood.

Anyone else want to respond?

BILES: There was a female agent in the room with me at the OTC in 2016, but most of it was filled by men just asking questions. But I honestly didn't know what I was walking into. They just told me I had a meeting with the FBI, didn't tell me what it was about. I was just pulled in a random -- just kind of like a hotel room and they just started asking questions. I was never prompted.

DURBIN: All right. Senator Padilla?

RAISMAN: I think I had a female agent in the room at the Olympic training center as well, but I'm not entirely sure.


BILES: I feel like we all had the same people.