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FBI Director and I.G. Testify on Failures in Nassar Investigation; Top Gymnasts Testify on FBI Failures to Investigate Nassar Abuse; 1 in Every 500 Americans has Died of COVID-19. Aired 1- 1:30p ET
Aired September 15, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL HOROWITZ, DOJ INSPECTOR GENERAL: They also had concerns about whether there was federal law enforcement, federal jurisdiction here, because, as we all know, these are usually the province of state and local prosecutors and investigators.
And, again, going back to something Director Wray said, the FBI policies before this made it clear that in these kinds of cases, state and local prosecutors, investigators are force multipliers, and yet it didn't occur in either office, and that was particularly concerning.
SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Well, let me just for a moment engage you on that. You said a number of things in your statement. It is really important. Can this be put in any form of policy which becomes operational procedure for the agency so that this committee and others know that things are going to change based on what has happened in the recent past?
HOROWITZ: And the report makes clear and what we've heard today makes clear and Senator Blumenthal and Senator Moran --
FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. What I'm talking about are your procedures, not what we say.
HOROWITZ: No, right. What has to happen is what Director Wray mentioned that they are doing already and what we all need to do, the FBI, the OIG, this committee, is do the follow-up you're talking about, we are going to continue to do our independent oversight of how those recommendations have been implemented, like we do in all our reports. We will follow up with that. I am happy to report back to the committee on what we've seen.
But steps do have to be taken, because there does have to be -- and it sounds like the FBI has taken those steps -- to ensure recordkeeping on the fact that something did occur. And that may sound obvious and I know it could sound trivial at times, but one of the damning findings here is the lack of recordkeeping that was occurring in 2015 that was only documented or attempted to be documented in 2017 and then done falsely. FEINSTEIN: I don't mean to interrupt you, but I would really, after all of the emotion and all of what we now know, five years later, to see new practices go into place. And what I'm asking both of you is to do that and give us here and now some statement of your intent to do that and that they will be posted and people will be trained in them and that they will be held responsible to carry them out so that what we said here and spent the time here can really make the change that's necessary, that no small child is going to be questioned by an FBI agent on the phone, you know, about this kind of thing. What your practices are so that everybody knows.
HOROWITZ: We always follow up on our recommendations. We will do that here. You have my commitment. We will report back to you what we found. And it will be up to the FBI to implement them. But we will not stop reviewing this matter until we're confident, we, the OIG, me, are confident that the steps were taken that needed to be taken.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And I would just add that that's exactly what's contemplated with the incorporation of all of Inspector General Horowitz's recommendation, policy changes, additional safeguards in the process, mandatory training that addresses this. I can put all that in the letter that you and the chairman discussed. I would add that --
FEINSTEIN: To the chairman and to the committee, would you put that in the letter?
WRAY: Yes. We'll walk through the things we're doing in response.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Thank you, Senator Feinstein.
HOROWITZ: Can I just add, Mr. Chairman, as you know, and I think, Senator Feinstein, as you know, I'm available at any time to meet with you to discuss this with you
further informally, more formally, and you have my commitment to that.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
WRAY: May I just add, Mr. Chairman, just in response to something else that Senator Feinstein, you asked, I would be remiss if I didn't make the point that the work that I saw in this case that's reflected in what Inspector General Horowitz found, part of what was so head- jerking to me is how inconsistent it is with what I see from the agents, analysts and professional staff who work these cases every day. And I've seen them as a prosecutor. I've seen them now as FBI director.
And over the last five years, our folks working with their partners have made 16,000 arrests of people like Mr. Nassar. And that by itself should be deeply troubling and encouraging at the same time.
Encouraging in the sense that those people are taken off the streets, but deeply disturbing because it gives you a sense of just the sheer scale of this kind of abuse in this country. Because I have no doubt that for the 16,000 arrests we made, lord knows how many other predators there are out there that we didn't get.
FEINSTEIN: Yes, that's staggering to me. I think we need to follow- up. Thank you very much.
DURBIN: We have members who have plane schedules and we want to make sure they have a chance. Senator Whitehouse?
SEN. SHELDON WHITE HOUSE (D-RI): Thank you, Chairman Durbin. Director Wray, it strikes me very --
ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are listening in to the head of the FBI and the U.S. inspector general of the Justice Department facing questions from this Senate committee.
Now, their appearance is following powerful, courageous and just horrific testimony on Capitol Hill earlier today. Four of the nation's top elite gymnasts, sexual abuse survivors, appearing before Congress, as lawmakers are now examining how the FBI failed these young women and so many others by mishandling its investigation into disgraced USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar.
SIMONE BILES, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: To be clear -- I'm sorry.
DURBIN: Take your time.
BILES: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.
MCKAYLA MARONEY, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: 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? They had legal legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.
MAGGIE NICHOLS, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to OIG investigators? 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.
ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSAR: Over the past few years, it has become painfully clear how a survivor's healing is affected by 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.
CABRERA: Let me walk you through a little bit of how we got here. In 2015, allegations against Nassar were first raised. In 2016, the allegations continued as Nassar still treated patients. He was still around athletes. By 2017, he was on trial. And in all, nearly 200 women and girls came forward in court and said Nassar had abused them over a period spanning two decades. He pleaded guilty. And in 2018, he was sentenced up to 175 years in prison.
Now, in July of this year we learned the findings of an inspector general's report that found as many as 70 more young women were abused because the FBI failed to act immediately in 2015 and then subsequent cover-ups.
Joining us now, Christine Brennan, CNN Sports Analyst and Sports Columnist for USA Today, and Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent.
First to you, Christine, your reaction to the gymnasts' testimony today and the significance of this moment for the sport and other young female athletes.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Ana, absolutely riveting and absolutely devastating. The missed opportunities to help these women, obviously young girls in many cases, as they're representing the country at the highest level, winning gold medals, and then also dealing with the horrors of Larry Nassar, the absolute, despicable abuse, sexual abuse. This is the worst sexual abuse scandal in the history of sports and in the history of the Olympics, and it seems to get worse every time we hear them speak.
And yet, the power of the platform, there they were telling their story. In many ways, some of these stories have already been told, but every time that they come forward, they, of course, enhance our horror and our concern for them and they tell us a little bit more. For example, revealing how difficult it was even to talk today and then how exhausting it was. It was really tough, McKayla Maroney, for example, saying I really can't say more right now because I'm just spent. Simone Biles, who we just saw a couple of months ago, a month- and-a-half ago in Tokyo, there she is again, the heroism of these women, role models that they are.
And my hope is, in the midst of all of the sadness, tragedy, missed opportunities to help them, I hope that today they reached a couple of young people.
They even said this, that maybe their words can help others. And maybe there are some young people who are being abused today who gain power and strength from looking at these American heroes. That's what they are. That's what they'll be in the history books, American heroes, all of them, telling their story, hopefully helping others even as we're just horrified by the terrible things that were done to them and the lack of help from the FBI and others when they needed it the most.
CABRERA: It is infuriating to hear how the FBI handled these allegations. Asha, we heard Maggie Nichols asked one of the key questions here, which is, why? Why did investigators fail so badly? It's unfathomable that these allegations were detailed to these agents and they didn't dive head on into a full-fledged investigation. I mean, what is the possible explanation for that?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST : Ana, I don't have an answer for you. This goes beyond, you know, a missed opportunity or something coming on the radar and, you know, agents not realizing the significance of it. This was evidence of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse, which was formally presented to the FBI, and really a dereliction of duty to follow basic investigative steps, Ana, like conducting an interview and documenting it immediately, transferring the case to a field office that would have had proper jurisdiction to continue to investigate the matter.
And what really is troubling here, Ana, is that this wasn't just a rogue agent that was unsupervised or something like that. This went all the way to the top. The special agent in charge of the Indianapolis field office was aware of this investigation and actually was involved in trying to get himself a job with USA Gymnastics while this investigation was going on, USA Gymnastics being the entity that reported the abuse. So there's a conflict of interest there. And then, of course, as you noted, an ongoing pattern of lying and concealing their investigative dereliction and negligence afterwards to the I.G. and to the media.
CABRERA: Christine, this report concluded that as many as 70 young athletes were abused after the initial allegations were raised before the FBI took meaningful action. Has anyone really been held accountable, because these survivors clearly don't feel like enough has been done?
BRENNAN: No. The fact that you're firing the person last week, again, we knew about this in 2015, 2016, 2017, he gets fired last week, atrocious, absolutely atrocious. What he could have done, what he should have done, obviously, as you were just saying, just absolutely horrific lack of doing the basics in terms of reporting.
And the number 70, Ana, I've seen the number as high as 120. Let's just make this crystal what we're talking about. We're talking about young women who would not have been molested and sexual assaulted and sexually abused by larry nassar if the FBI agents had reported this to the Lansing office and started the process that he had to do and did not do.
So you have probably 100, maybe more, this is what we know about, victims simply because the FBI failed. It is one of the worst -- as I said, it's the worst scandal in sports history in terms of sex abuse. It almost keeps getting worse because we keep getting reminded even though, thank goodness, these women are there, so articulate, so terrific to be able to remind us.
But that's -- yes, tThe FBI, part of it is the newer part of it, the information that we did have and clearly a huge and horrifying piece of the story.
CABRERA: I do want to play a particular moment from McKayla Maroney's opening statement. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARONEY: After telling my entire story of abuse to the FBI in the summer of 2015, not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.
After reading the office of the inspector general's OIG report, I was shocked and deeply disappointed at this narrative they chose to fabricate. They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Asha, she claims the FBI falsified her account. Now, when we talk about accountability here, all that we know of that's really taken place is one agent involved retired, was allowed to retire. We've learned that one person was fired just in recent weeks. But these first allegations surfaced six years ago.
So why did it take this long to fire someone and should it go beyond that? Should somebody within the FBI be actually facing charges and be prosecuted?
RANGAPPA: Yes. So, to be clear, the OIG did find that the supervisory special agent in this case did falsify a 302, which is the documentation of an interview, which, again, he wrote 17 months after the fact, which I've just never heard of that, to be honest. You're trained to write your 302s right after you do the interview. And that's a crime. It's also making false statements to the OIG that you're being interviewed is also a potential crime. And so we do have a failure of accountability here, Ana.
The supervisory special agent did retire before he made these false statements to the OIG, but those are potentially still prosecutable offenses. But the DOJ declined to prosecute here. And I think that the committee, the Judiciary Committee needs to press and find out why, because, otherwise, presumably, the retired SAC is collecting a pension right now. So I think that it's problematic that not only was he not punished, but he's kind of being rewarded for service, which he failed to perform in this case.
So I think it remains to be seen whether there will be any other movement on that front.
CABRERA: All right. Asha Rangappa and Christine Brennan, obviously, this story is not over and it sounds like the investigations are going to continue, you know, the senators we heard there talk about trying to get more answers and get to the bottom and also holding these officials accountable to make sure that they ensure that the changes are implemented that can make sure this doesn't ever happen again. Thank you both, ladies.
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CABRERA: Another sobering milestone in this pandemic. 1 in every 500 Americans has now died of COVID-19. As of last night, the official count is nearly 664,000 deaths nationwide. To a large degree, this remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And just two days from now, a key panel of FDA advisers will debate whether to authorize COVID booster shots for the general population. There is little agreement on this even within the medical community.
And with us now is Dr. Leana Wen, CNN Medical Analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, and also is Dr. Jeremy Faust, an Emergency Physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Thank you both for being here.
Dr. Wen, just your reaction first to this pandemic now taking the life of 1 in every 500 Americans. Did you ever think it would get to this point?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No, and it's actually a number that is very difficult to process. I mean, imagine if 1 in 500 Americans have died in a war due to a foreign adversary in the last year-and-a-half. How would we be processing that information now and what would we be doing differently? Wouldn't we be doing everything we can to end the war, to end the suffering and death?
And yet, right now, we actually have the tools. We know that vaccines are our best and only way out of the pandemic. We have the tool that it will take for us to save lives and for us to not do everything that we can with vaccines and masks in the meantime is really unconscionable.
CABRERA: Dr. Faust, you're an emergency physician. You've surely seen unvaccinated people definitely ill, suffering in ways a vaccine would have prevented. Where has the failure been?
DR. JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: The failure has been to completely roll out the most miraculous thing that's happened during this terrible crisis, which is these vaccines that are so impressively effective. We see all over the country, but even here in Massachusetts, that when there's an uptick in deaths, it is most likely to occur by far in the counties that have lower vaccine rates. That tells you everything you need to know.
We hospitalize unvaccinated people almost exclusively. There are breakthrough hospitalizations but that's a statistical byproduct of the fact that we have so many vaccinated people in some counties. But that's the only target left, and those folks are doing better than we ever would have hoped a year ago. So, we need to just use the tools we have, like Dr. Wen said.
CABRERA: And there are a lot people who are vaccinated but who are saying is that good enough. Dr. Wen, we know the FDA advisory committee is going to meet Friday to discuss booster shots and we have reporting that this is not a slam dunk. The FDA committee will be presented with dueling data, some pointing to a need for boosters, others suggesting we aren't there yet. What are your expectations?
WEN: Well, I think at this point there is a debate not really about the science but actually about the values. So, here's what essentially every public health expert would agree to. I'm sure Dr. Faust would agree to that the main reason for vaccination is to reduce hospitalization and death. That's the key metric that we're aiming for. And in that regard, the COVID vaccines are extremely effective.
What not everybody would agree to is the second thing, which I believe that the point of vaccination is to also reduce the level of infection, is to also to reduce symptomatic illness. There are some people who are medically frail for whom a mild illness might well tip them over the edge and they could become severely ill.
Those individuals would really benefit from a booster dose.
There are other people who just really do not want to get a breakthrough infection. Maybe they have young kids at home, maybe they just don't want to have the potential of long-term consequences, they might choose to get a booster shot as well. So, I hope the FDA allows individuals to make the best choice for themselves depending on their own medical circumstances.
I don't think this is a position that everyone holds. Dr. Faust might disagree here. But it's certainly one that I and many doctors hold, because we want to do what's best for our patients and to be able to give those who want boosters the opportunity to get a booster, I think, is important.
CABRERA: I am curious to get your thoughts as well, Dr. Faust, because I read your deep dive and your analysis after doing so much research on vaccine efficacy, and you said it's not waning. So, explain where you're coming from and do you think the U.S. should hit pause on the booster plan, or would you proceed forward, like Dr. Wen is suggesting?
FAUST: Yes. What I wrote is that there is some waning of the vaccine's effectiveness against infection. We see a little bit of that, but most of what is driving the crisis right now is delta as opposed to the vaccines not holding up.
The thing that I would say is that we should follow the science. And the science is actually quite clear on this. We now see out of Israel pretty compelling data that if you boost, you decrease infections and, therefore, you decrease hospitalizations in 60-plus, in people 60- plus. And we know that people have tolerated that well. We know that works for about a month. This is the equivalent of stepping on the gas pedal and measuring how fast you're going, but then you take your foot off the pedal and you go back to cruising speed.
So, the question is what is the boost accomplishing? Is it really just that little boost when you're on the gas pedal or when you take foot off, are you at a new speed? I'm worried that we are confusing a month of data, which we had that gas pedal boost, for what the long-term effects would be. And this is the key question. Yes, we should probably boost people who need it in that high risk category, immunecompromised people, very, very old. But for younger people, do we really have the science and data to say what's safe for a third dose or not? Look, a seventh or eighth dose or ninth dose would probably not be safe. The question is, is a third dose safe. I think people want to know that.
So the question is not should we vaccinate everyone a third time, it's who. That's the real question to ask.
CABRERA: And, Dr. Wen, one of the places that COVID is really surging right now in the U.S. is inside schools. Georgia health officials say 60 percent of COVID outbreaks in that state are occurring in K-12 schools. And schools are still struggling to respond, right? One North Carolina school district is deciding it's going to end quarantines, it's going to stop contact tracing for the students and staff who may have been exposed but are asymptomatic or they test the negative. Does that approach make sense to you?
WEN: No. I mean, that's the same as saying, if we just don't look for disease, we're not going to find it. But just because you're not looking for it, it doesn't mean the disease isn't there. It's just things that you don't know about it and then there is further spread chains of transmission that could occurring at home, in the community due to what's happening in schools.
I think what's really frustrating about what's going on in schools is that we know what it takes to keep COVID out of schools. We know what it takes to prevent the COVID from spreading in schools. And that is everybody who is able to be vaccinated, 12 and older getting vaccinated, that's indoor masking, that's quarantining, contact tracing, all these measures that we've been talking about, improved ventilation, all of these things are layers of protection. The more virus there is in the school, the more layers you're going to need.
Overall, we need to decrease the level of transmission in the community, but in the meantime we need to be protecting our children. Nearly 30 percent of all new infections are occurring in kids. In the last two weeks, there have been half a million new COVID-19 infections in our children. It's, again, really unconscionable that we're not doing everything we can. We have the tools. We know what works. Why not deploy these tools to protect our children?
CABRERA: Dr. Leana Wen and Dr. Jeremy Faust, I appreciate both of you. Thanks so much for joining us.
A quick programming note. Join us as Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to scientists about the origin of COVID-19. This is a new CNN special report on Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern.
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