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Gymnasts Call Out Federal Government Over Nassar Investigation. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 14:00   ET




And that does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota take over right now.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining us for NEWSROOM.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

We begin with gut-wrenching testimony on Capitol Hill today from some of our most decorated and beloved Olympic gymnast. They bravely recounted the sexual abuse they endured at the hands of former Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar and blamed the FBI for ignoring their complaints and allowing the abuse to continue for years.

In 2018, more than 150 women and girls said Nassar had sexually abused them over the past two decades.

BLACKWELL: Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison, and the Justice Department found that the FBI officials who were investigating the allegations violated the agency's policies by making false statements and failing to properly document the complaints.

Among today's Senate committee witnesses, Simone Biles, who said that -- quote -- "The entire system enabled the abuse that she and her teammates suffered for so many years."


SIMONE BILES, U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNAST: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar. And I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

How much is a little girl worth? I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar's guise of medical treatment. MCKAYLA MARONEY, NASSAR ACCUSER: Let's be honest. By not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year. And this inaction directly allowed Nassar's abuse to continue.

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. If they're not going to protect me, I want to know, who are they trying to protect?

ALY RAISMAN, NASSAR ACCUSER: My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG, USOPC, but they were also mishandled by federal law enforcement officers, 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. Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest. It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter.


BLACKWELL: Now, just days ago, just a few days ago, the FBI fired one of the agents at the center of these failures.

The FBI director, Christopher Wray, also testified about today's -- today's hearing. We will get back to this in a moment.

But let's go to a news conference that these gymnasts are holding right now.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): -- were so extraordinarily impactful and impressive in the testimony that they gave.

I want to thank my colleague Senator Grassley for joining us, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, and my colleague Senator Moran, who could not be with us.

Today marks another step in a continuing quest for accountability and justice. Director Wray testified just moments ago that he has run out of adjectives. I suggested to him we have all run out of adjectives to describe the monstrous, horrific, predatory, criminal conduct of Larry Nassar.

We have run out of adjectives, but we haven't run out of action. That's what the gymnasts deserve.

The criminal conduct by Larry Nassar, unfortunately, was not unique to him. And it was not unique to gymnastics. It was enabled by others. And others have been enabled in this kind of predatory conduct.

The FBI became an enabler, rather than an enforcer. The FBI became part of the problem, not the solution. And I have strongly called for continuing criminal investigation, if necessary, under new jurisdictional issues, because I think justice will be done only if there is accountability here.


We have legislated reforms in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. We have legislated reforms in SafeSport. But we need accountability still. And that is why this hearing should be followed by another, and I believe it will be, that will involve the Department of Justice coming before our committee and explaining why there has been no criminal prosecution here, despite a referral twice for criminal prosecution by the inspector general.

These FBI agents lied on 302 reports. They are internal reports which are essential to criminal prosecutions. The material misstatements and deceptive omissions by FBI agents, in my view, are serious allegations that deserve further investigation.

And they lied, apparently, not only there, but also to the inspector general as well.

So let me just summarize, and then I will turn it over to my colleague Senator Grassley. He will be followed by the -- whoever would like to say a few words about -- today among the gymnasts, former gymnasts.

They are stars. They really broke through today. They made an impact that I have rarely seen in my decade in the United States Senate. Their testimony was so powerful and important. And I want to thank them on behalf of the members who participated today for their courage and strength, their grace and daring, not only in the course of their tremendous athletic performance, but as role models for so many young women and men in the way they stood up, spoke out and made an impact today.

Thank you.

Senator Grassley.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): First of all, I associate myself with all the remarks you made. And I thank these women for being here today.

And I don't know what I can say it any stronger than if you heard Senator Durbin's remarks immediately after these women testified. He said something along the lines that he has never heard such strong testimony to back up, one, the need for maybe further legislation, further hearings, but also the inadequacy of the enforcement of existing laws, or, even if it doesn't involve the enforcement of existing laws, it involves the FBI derelict in what they were doing.

So, whether it's the lack of what executive branch agencies didn't do, or whether we need more legislation, is a question that is totally backed up by the testimony of these women. And, particularly, they're speaking out for hundreds of other people that were affected the same way they were affected.

We have been somewhat successful in passing some legislation. But this testimony indicates that we need to do a lot more. And I think we worked in a bipartisan way in the first instances and we will continue to work in a bipartisan way otherwise.

Thank you very much for your help. And thank you all for coming.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot.

GRASSLEY: You bet.

BLUMENTHAL: Now, do you want to go first?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want to -- are you comfortable?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to go first?



LORINCZ: We're going to drag the steps. Thank you.

My name is Kaylee Lorincz.

And my last appointment with Larry Nassar was February 2 of 2016. And that appointment never should have happened.


I'm here speaking on behalf of the 120 victims who saw Larry after the FBI knew of his abuse in 2015 and failed to investigate, failed to take action and failed to protect. Let me be clear. I should not be here.

I was abused from 2011 to 2016. And my life has been forever changed. When I think of the FBI, I think of truth, integrity and honor. And yet the reality of their actions was the exact opposite.

One of the FBI core values is listed as accountability. So, let me ask, where is the accountability? Where's the accountability for letting Larry continue to sexually assault little girls on your watch? Where's the accountability for those at the FBI who chose to place personal gain ahead of their duties to protect and serve?

Had anyone at the FBI done their job, then I would not be here speaking to you today. Accountability will only occur when the FBI agents who did not do their job face criminal charges. My 2016 abuse is on them.

It is five years later, five years of asking the same questions. It's time for these questions to be answered.

Thank you.


RAISMAN: We're going to open it up to questions. Is someone (OFF-MIKE).




So, I think that in regards to the question about SafeSport, I think it's really important for it to be a completely separate entity. And SafeSport should not be funded by an organization that there are reports against. And there needs to be more clear -- what's the right word?

What I was trying to say earlier was that, with SafeSport, in some of my personal experience, and also with my mom's personal experience, and with -- sorry -- it's been a very long day -- with other people that I have spoken to, is that they bounce it around to other people. And so there needs to be more clear lines of communication.

And then.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And who's accountable, right?

RAISMAN: Yes. Yes.

Mom, do you want to add anything else to the SafeSport thing? Because my brain is a little fried.


RAISMAN: And I also think that whatever can be done to have all three, USAG, USOPC, and the FBI, be investigated, and USAG says that there's been investigations, but those -- the scope of the investigation wasn't acceptable.

And it needs to be completely independent, and it needs to go back decades. And nobody's off-limits. Nothing's off-limits. And until we know all the answers to that, we don't know who to hold accountable. Then there might still be people there that are in positions of power.





RAISMAN: I haven't watched the full testimony, because we -- this is a lot on us. I definitely do plan to watch it.

But in order for me to be able to be here right now, I needed to take a little bit of a mental break. But, no, I don't take any of their word. We have been getting empty promises from USAG and USOPC for years. And

I don't take people's words for things. It has to be action. And so, hopefully, today will be a day that effectuates real meaningful change. And, hopefully, we will continue to get answers and people will be held accountable.

But I think that we all deserve more than just words.

BLUMENTHAL: Can I introduce Jessica Howard to say a few words.


BLUMENTHAL: All right.


This is probably the first time I have stood in Washington, D.C., listened to all of these words, and all of these promises, and all of these "You're so courageous "and all of these "You're so brave" comments, and sat here and actually believed that something was going to be done.

When I was at the beginning of the end of my career, my coach pulled me aside right before I got kicked out of the gym forever, and she said that my failure in life was going to be that I trusted people too much and I spoke too freely. And that has haunted me like some sort of ghost, because I have been torn between wanting to trust people when they say things, and wanting to believe that they are going to do the right thing, and then actually seeing somebody do the right thing.

There are only a handful of people who have. And that handful happens to be part of the most powerful organization in the United States, is one of the most powerful organizations, is the Senate. And I don't know how we got to be here today.

But I can just say thank you from the bottom of my heart. It has personally contributed to saving my life. And I know that everybody here, all the victims, we're tired of sharing our heartbreaking stories, so people can have their heartstrings tugged on.

If the people that do not -- the people that actually can take -- enforce the laws onto the people who are accountable, this will get fixed, it will go away, and future generations will not face the abuse that we have faced, and they will not face a lifetime of side effects that may or may not be the end of them.

So, I just -- again, I want to thank -- thank the Senate. Thank you for everything you have said. And I believe you. I believed you spoke last time I was here. And, today, I believe you have even more, and with this group, I feel like we can really do something. So thank you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

I would just emphasize that we were last in this room. Many of you were here. And we made a promise to continue this fight. We're going to continue this fight. We have achieved legislation. We have reports. But we're going to

continue this effort, because we need to keep faith with you and with all of the athletes who may be survivors and victims of this kind of abuse. And you are the faces and voices that will achieve real change in this country.

The enablers, the culture, the system, it's more than just one monster predator like Larry Nassar. There is a much broader responsibility and a need for broader accountability. And that's what we're going to see, action and accountability.

Other questions?



RAISMAN: I know I sound like a broken record, but I think that your question is really important.

And I often ask myself the same thing. And I think, instead of us guessing if someone should be in the position of leadership or a position of power at USAG or USOC, that this is why I'm saying we need to have a complete independent investigation, because I don't have all the answers.


I -- when you look at their press statements for decades, they have been saying the same things over and over again, with no real meaningful change. But it is -- I can't understand how, when you are a CEO, and you have nothing to do with this disaster, and you come in as the new CEO of an organization, and you know that you're coming into a massive problem of sexual abuse, and the first thing you do is not to investigate, in fact, do things to not investigate and to not do anything, when people shame survivors and not hear survivors and try to create more education and do things that will really truly make change.

It's completely unacceptable. And I can't understand. If I was the CEO of an organization, I would -- the first thing I would do would be to have a completely independent investigation. And I'm not sure why that hasn't been done yet. Or, I mean, maybe we can speculate because they're afraid that it's so bad that they don't want us to find out.

BLUMENTHAL: And I would just add, on SafeSport, SafeSport now has an independent source of funding. The jury is still out on whether it's going to be sufficient in terms of the reforms made already. And we're going to be monitoring it. We have a responsibility to watch closely.

And all of the reforms can be strengthened, and we may well need to strengthen.


BLUMENTHAL: I'm going to be demanding more of the FBI. But, even more important, of the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice today was a no-show. The Department of Justice failed to appear. They have responsibility, ultimately, for the FBI, for the prosecutions, and for action here. And Director Wray may have run out of adjectives, but the Department of Justice hasn't run out of action.

And they should be answering many of the questions. So, I am by no means satisfied with what I heard today.

HOWARD: As somebody who's been in and out of these rooms since the beginning of this coming forward, I just would like to let you know that, if the FBI had done anything that was even within their own policies and procedures, or followed any of the laws that are already in place to protect children from sexual abuse, some of these people would not even be here as victims, let alone talk about a recovery.

So it seems a little bit redundant to me to continue to talk about the things that are going to be put in place, when people cannot hear something about child sexual abuse, violent child sexual abuse, trafficking, and being accessories to the fact that Larry Nassar did what he did, and then we're somehow supposed to be able to answer, like, where the FBI screwed up.

There are amazing people. There are good people. But if people do not work with their conscience, and work on a moral standard, and just do the very basics of their jobs, then that's why we're here. We hope that can happen. But there are 120 people who would not have been victims had one FBI agent made a proper report or phone call. '

BLUMENTHAL: And during the hearing, I don't know whether you saw it, but I asked every one of these women whether they knew personally victims who became survivors during that nearly 18-month period, July 2015 to the end of 2016.

There were 120 young women who laid before Larry Nassar on his examining table, and he did with him whatever he wanted, because the FBI did nothing.

Let's be very clear. The FBI's inaction led to victimization of the most horrific and hideous kind.



BLUMENTHAL: Well, I asked Director Wray about the potential for a conspiracy. And I'm going to be following up with both him and Inspector General Horowitz. And both of them said they would cooperate.

So, I don't know whether any one will be fired. But I hope we haven't heard the last of action.


BLUMENTHAL: Could you--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think something about a subpoena, subpoenas?

BLUMENTHAL: That's better.


BLUMENTHAL: Well, I definitely want to hear more from the Department of Justice. I want to hear something from the Department of Justice. Today, we heard nothing from the Department of Justice, after a letter that I wrote, along with Senator Feinstein, specifically urging the top leadership of the Department of Justice to come before us.

And I want cooperation.


BLUMENTHAL: I'd like to hear their testimony.

RAISMAN: Can I say one thing about them not showing up?


RAISMAN: I also just -- the message that by them not showing up to me sends that child abuse doesn't matter.

And I think that's something that people in positions of power in these powerful organizations need to think about, is that -- the message that they are sending that abuse doesn't matter. And I think it's completely shocking and disturbing that they didn't think it was important, or they didn't think that what happened to us -- I have to speculate -- wasn't bad enough for them to come.

It's really unacceptable. And, hopefully, we will get to hear their testimonies and, if there is another hearing, they will show up.

BLUMENTHAL: You know, I will just say, generally, what we saw from the Indianapolis office of the FBI, and then the Los Angeles office, and then the entire system was a failure to take seriously these allegations.

They didn't take them seriously. And that's what really should be so outrageous. And the perception may well be that the Department of Justice doesn't take this issue seriously. Sometimes, perception becomes reality.


HOWARD: I can think of one thing, indictments, people being arrested where there is evidence and where there are witnesses.

If there are no indictments, and there is nobody being arrested, and the people that have become accessories to, again, trafficking us and then handing us on a silver platter to Larry Nassar are not held to account, I don't know what today was for.

But today was for something. And I believe that those things will begin to happen.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, everyone. Really appreciate your being here. Sorry for the delay.

And thank you especially to you all, again. And they will be back in this room. Thank you all.

BLACKWELL: You have been listening to some of the survivors of the abuse inflicted by Larry Nassar, there also with them Senators Grassley and Blumenthal, after this gut-wrenching testimony this morning about what they suffered and why the procedures that are already in place for the FBI were not followed.

Jessica Howard there said, this is not as much a conversation about which new laws need to be implemented.