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Gymnasts Testify that FBI Failed to Protect Them; Afghan Women Hide for their Lives; Nicholas Stalls over Gulf Coast. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And the bombshell new book. High-level officials in the Trump administration raising questions about the former president's mental state. How close did the country come to a catastrophe?


KEILAR: The head of the FBI, Chris Wray, is apologizing to the dozens of women and girls who say they were sexually abused by the now imprisoned former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar. And it comes after gut-wrenching Senate testimony from star American gymnasts. Names and facings that you know who ripped the FBI and the Justice Department for failing to protect them.

CNN's Jean Casarez has the story.


MCKAYLA MARONEY, USA GYMNAST: They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.


ALY RAISMAN, USA GYMNAST: I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar's plea deal.

SIMONE BILES, USA GYMNAST: I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system.

MAGGIE NICHOLS, USA GYMNAST: Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to OIG investigators?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and Maggie Nichols, elite gymnasts and members of the Olympics United States Gymnastics team giving emotional testimony, ripping the FBI for failing to protect them from their sexual abuser.

MARONEY: I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma. RAISMAN: It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a

silver platter.

CASAREZ: One by one, the decorated gymnasts told their stories, recounted the years of abuse by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor.

BILES: 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, which we continue to endure today.

MARONEY: That evening I was naked, completely alone with him on top of me, molesting me for hours. I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go.

He turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor.

CASAREZ: Nassar is currently serving 40 to 175-year state prison sentence after 150 women and girls came forward to expose he abused them over the course of 20 years. But the congressional hearing, a result of the scathing report from the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office revealing FBI officials investigating the allegations against Nassar made false statements and failed to properly document complaints by the accusers at the time.

MARONEY: 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.

CASAREZ: One FBI agent already fired, Michael Langeman, according to "The Washington Post," interviewed Maroney in 2015 about her allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar and is accused of failing to launch a proper investigation. Langeman declined to comment, as did the FBI and the Inspector General's Office to the paper.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The FBI's handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau.

CASAREZ: FBI Director Christopher Wray, who did not lead the bureau at the time, also being grilled.

DURBIN: What am I missing here? This man is on the loose molesting children and it appears that it's being lost in the paperwork of the agency.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: And I share your bewilderment. I share your outrage. And -- and I don't have a good explanation for you.

CASAREZ: Wray apologizing to the victims and vowing to do more.

WRAY: It's my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.


CASAREZ: These young women want criminal prosecutions. They want criminal investigations.

Now, the Department of Justice was invited to the hearing yesterday to testify. They declined. And Senator Richard Blumenthal said, they just didn't show up. And that gives the appearance that they don't care about child sexual abuse.

Well, hours later, CNN did learn that the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has agreed that he will come before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, we believe to testify.

But, Brianna, there were criminal referrals from the Department of Justice Inspector General's report and those where opted not to be acted upon. And the civil attorney for these young women told me he believes that a special prosecutor should be appointed. So there's a real criminal investigation. You know, the inspector general can only go so far.

KEILAR: This is incredible, Jean. Thank you so much for your report.

And joining us now is CNN contributor and "WIRED" contributing editor, Garrett Graff.

Garrett, you know, for you the big takeaway here, I think a lot of people knew that USA Gymnastics is to blame here. But now we're looking at the FBI. And it is egregious when you hear these descriptions from these girls that they told them in very specific terms what had happened to them and it was glossed over.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I mean this is one of the most heart-wrenching and awful investigative scandals that I have seen in a generation at the bureau.

And remember that this happened to some of the most famous women in the world.


And the idea that the FBI screwed up at this level so completely, in such a potentially high-profile case, is deeply worrying for how it treats, you know, much more run of the mill cases that do not involve people of this prominence. I mean to overlook these victims is just a stunning oversight.

BERMAN: You know, Garrett, looking at the big picture there, to hear the director of the FBI say, and it was in Jean's piece, and I think that to me hearing the gymnasts was deeply emotional but to hear the director of the FBI say, I don't have a good explanation for you.


BERMAN: There's really no answer for how bad the FBI screwed up there.

And, Garrett, just bigger picture here, this speaks to some of the challenges and problems the FBI has had in some high-profile instances over the last five to ten years.

GRAFF: Absolutely. You know, you put this up against, for instance, the recent controversy over the FBI's lack of enthusiasm, shall we say, to more deeply investigate Brett Kavanaugh's background during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. And you see an agency that I think systematically underplays sexual assault and abuse allegations. That this is an agency that remains far too white, far too male and presumably does not take these cases with the seriousness across the board that it should. And that -- that across the board is an important thing as well because what this -- what the inspector general showed here is a deep level of rot inside the Indianapolis field office. And, you know, for all that we talk about the FBI as this giant, you know, monolithic, super investigative agency, you have to remember, it's made up of 35,000 personnel spread across 56 field offices and 400 smaller resident agencies and that sometimes there are just offices that are not operating at the top of their game.

BERMAN: Talk to me a little bit more about that, because I find that interesting. You say there's no one FBI. There's no FBI per se. It's more of a collection of these 35,000 people. What are the implications of that?

GRAFF: Yes. And this is something where we -- we see this, by the way, in cases all across the country. You know, that the FBI has specialties, field office to field office. You know, there are only a small handful of field offices across the country. There are like five that can handle a sophisticated cyber case. You know, there are a very small number of agents -- agency field offices that do sophisticated counterterrorism operations. And that, you know, the FBI sort of specializes in whatever the thing is locally that seems to be the major issue. And this seems clearly to be a case that went into an office that just mishandled it top to bottom.

And, in fact, part of the inspector general's findings was that these investigations -- that this allegation also ended up with the Los Angeles field office that took the investigation more seriously but was told -- basically lied to, effectively, by the Indianapolis office, saying, we've got this under control, we've looked into this.

BERMAN: Yes, and it does raise questions about whether there's structural issues here letting people down, not just these women who suffered so much, but in other cases as well.

Garrett Graff, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GRAFF: Always my pleasure.

BERMAN: A new reality for the women of Afghanistan. CNN speaks with woman who are now hiding under Taliban rule.

KEILAR: And the mystery deepens over the case of a missing woman last seen on a cross country road trip. What a new police report shows about the days just before she vanished.



KEILAR: An Afghan woman who has worked to rescue abused children in the country is now in hiding from the Taliban, though she says she doesn't fear death, she just hopes it happens quickly.

Taranom Sayedi was beaten two weeks ago after protesting for equal rights. And this is the new reality for millions of women in Afghanistan as the Taliban exerts control.

Nic Robertson is live for us from Kabul.

And, Nic, Sayedi was a former candidate for the parliament in Afghanistan, but even her high profile couldn't protect her here. What does that mean for the rest of the women in the country?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It means a very bleak outlook. The Taliban won't even look women in the eye, never mind discuss their rights. And those like Sayedi, who actually stand up and protest and try to get a better place for women in the new Afghanistan, they're now hounded for fear for their life.


ROBERTSON (voice over): In happier times, Taranom Sayedi saved children from abuse. Paid for it with profits from a construction company she built. Now she is in hiding from the Taliban, in fear for her life.

TARANOM SAYEDI, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND BUSINESSWOMAN (through translator): They are trying to threaten us and execute us secretly, as they did to many of my female friends.

ROBERTSON: Her crime, in the Taliban's eyes, protests, taking to the streets two weeks ago, demanding equal rights.


She was beaten and bruised. Ever since, Taliban death threats have stalked her. So much fear she now hopes if death comes it's fast.

SAYEDI: I am not afraid of death, but I wish when they find me, they kill me quickly. If they torture me first, then they will kill me without any honor. Everyone wants to die with dignity.

ROBERTSON: Before the Taliban, she was well known, popular, ran for parliament, might have been elected if not for endemic corruption. She hoped her high profile might save her. Now has no idea what to do.

SAYEDI: How long can I be brave? How long do we have to fight? In fact, fight with whom? With whom to talk? With whom to discuss? We are in darkness with no way to get to a brighter future.

ROBERTSON: Across the country, many more women like Sayedi hide in fear of the Taliban. They share all the news, social media posts that they say show arbitrary abuse that are both hard to verify and the Taliban deny. For now, though, they are the only way that women can protest their plight.

MAHBOUBA SERAJ, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, CEO, AFGHAN WOMEN'S NETWORK: Everything is at stake right now because -- because we are actually facing a situation that we are so disliked by a group of people who are actually running this country, they can't even look at us.

ROBERTSON: Mahbouba Seraj is Afghanistan's highest profile women's rights activist. She returned from the U.S. when the Taliban were ousted two decades ago. She won't leave again, she says, will stay here to defend women. Get the world's attention.

SERAJ: They're going to make problems. They're going to raise their voices. They're going to start, you know -- they -- they can -- the world is becoming a very small place now.

ROBERTSON (on camera): These are brutal guys with guns who turn them on crowds.

SERAJ: It's true. But for how long? They're going to be killing everybody? Is that what they want to do?

ROBERTSON (voice over): Sayedi is facing an agonizing choice. She is the breadwinner. Her brother's family, and the abused children she rescued depend on her.

SAYEDI: They need me. So I need to be strong. And that's really hard.

ROBERTSON: But to stay is to risk death.

SAYEDI: We tried a lot to have a better Afghanistan, to have a better life, to have a better future. In fact, me and my friends didn't expect that one day we will be forced to leave our own country, but they took everything from us.

ROBERTSON: What happens now, she says, depends on her calls for help to the U.S., the U.K., Canada and others. If she does leave, Sayedi vows to fight on.


ROBERTSON: You know, it's difficult to sort of understate the amount of fear she's in. You feel it when you're sitting in the room with her. This really is life in the balance, life and death. And every moment is a fearful moment for her.


KEILAR: You can see why.

Nic, thank you so much.

Nic Robertson live for us from Kabul.

The United States ratcheting up the tension with China in a military deal that one ally is calling a stab in the back. BERMAN: But first, our special "Champions for Change" series is back.

Stories that spotlight people who may not make the headlines but are still breaking barriers and inspiring others to do the same.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Join your favorite CNN anchors for a special week.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Immigrants enrich our country and they're proving it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sharing stories of change makers.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the most devastating and yet preventable issues of our day.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He hopes the defenseless learn to defend themselves.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Theater teaches courage, confidence, trust.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: She saw a need and every day she sets out to fulfill that need.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: He is using scuba diving for a better environment.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: She is a trail-blazing, black woman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Preserving the ocean for our children.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Empowering women for financial independence.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No one should drown because they don't know how to swim.

Very good. Very good. Very good.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Small steps can lead to a big impact.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We Are Hope can help kids in school and beyond.


WHITFIELD: A champion.

CABRERA: She's a champion for --


BROWN: Change.

KEILAR: Change.

GUPTA: Change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Champions for Change," all next week on CNN.




BERMAN: About 5 million people along the Gulf Coast are under flash flood watches this morning as Nicholas stalls over Louisiana and two strong tropical disturbances are brewing in the Atlantic.

So let's get right to meteorologist Chad Myers.

That sounds like a lot, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, I just -- I can't help but use the word relentless. I mean that's what tropical season is now. I mean just the heavy rainfall across the Gulf Coast. It just keeps coming. And there's more rain coming today.

This weather brought to you by Carvana, the new way to buy a car.

So let's get right to it. Here's where the flood watches are, the same places that have seen between six and 10 inches of rainfall just over the past couple of days and more rain coming in this afternoon. More rain in the form of four to six inches.

Now, it's along the coast and it will get into the Gulf of Mexico rather quickly, but, still, another four on top of four still makes flooding.

So, here we go. Here are the other two you're talking about. Two storms, one coming off Africa, one here across the eastern section of the Atlantic coast, just to the west of Bermuda.


This one not going to be a problem for us, but this has a long run in some very warm water. We'll keep an eye on that for you.

NEW DAY continues