It wasn’t just USA Gymnastics that covered up Larry Nasser’s horrific sexual abuse of young girls and women. A new report from a bipartisan congressional investigation concluded that the FBI and the US Olympic Committee knew about Nassar’s crimes for more than 14 months — and did nothing to stop him. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) think some people should be headed to prison:
An @NBCNews exclusive: For 421 days, the FBI, the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics all failed to act or even warn Michigan State University, where Dr. Larry Nassar worked, that he was sexually abusing athletes, @tomcostellonbc reports pic.twitter.com/d9K1vNAOSQ
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 30, 2019
The report concluded that Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, as well as the FBI, “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so.”
The report details how Nassar was able to abuse more than 300 athletes over two decades because of ineffective oversight by the Olympic organizations. The findings confirm previous reporting by NBC News, and cite an NBC News interview with McKayla Maroney that aired on “Dateline” in April 2018.
Between summer 2015 and September 2016, the Olympic organizations “knowingly concealed abuse by Nassar, leading to the abuse of dozens of additional amateur athletes,” according to the report. The Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and MSU all received reports about Nassar’s abuse more than a year before anything was done, the investigation found.
The cover-up from USA Gymnastics had already been exposed last year. Former CEO Steve Penny got arrested in October after a federal indictment for tampering accused him of hiding records that showed the organization knew about Nassar. Penny had already publicly admitted to telling people within the organization not to discuss Nassar to protect the privacy of the athletes, a story no one bought at all, especially when the athletes themselves accused Penny of pressuring them to remain silent. USA Gymnastics had to declare bankruptcy not long afterward.
The expansion of the cover-up to the US Olympic Committee would be a big story in itself, even without the allegations that the FBI tacitly covered it up as well. The USOC managed to keep itself relatively distant from the scandal, helped in part by Penny’s role at the top of USAG and alleged extent of his enabling of Nassar. In December, the USOC announced changes to its policies to increase accountability in the wake of the Nassar scandal, but if investigators have discovered documentary evidence that they knew as early as the summer of 2015, they’d better start preparing for their own bankruptcy and forced dissolution.
What about the FBI? Some of the points in the report are already known. Victims had been going to the FBI for some time and had been getting the run-around, and it appeared to take investigators a long time to act to protect potential new victims as well as existing victims. Blumenthal and Moran tell NBC News that the problem appears deeper than just a case of bureaucratic inertia, and that a lack of honest responses to their questions suggest a more assertive policy of no action:
Blumenthal and Moran told NBC News that they were not satisfied with the answers the FBI gave them during the investigation. They are still waiting for the results of a Department of Justice Inspector General report on what went wrong at the FBI.
“I would say, so far, we’ve received no satisfactory answer” to the subcommittee’s repeated requests as to what the bureau was doing during the more than 400-day gap between when the FBI first learned of the abuse allegations and when Nassar was arrested by local law enforcement, Blumenthal told NBC News. “I think we ought to be demanding, so should the American people, better answers.”
Michael Horowitz is a very busy man. It won’t end there, or at least that’s what Moran and Blumenthal hope. They want an extensive criminal investigation into who knew what and when, and who acted and didn’t act. If the FBI has been compromised, though, that might be a little tricky. It could take a US Attorney with a very large budget acting as a kind of de facto special counsel with his own investigators, which might have to be hired from organizations other than the FBI but with a similar jurisdictional authority.
Blumenthal and Moran also want Congress to assert more authority over Olympic governing bodies. They have introduced a bill that has been endorsed by some of Nassar’s victims to put these groups under much closer scrutiny:
“This needs to empower and embolden the athletes who should feel they can come forward without fear of retaliation, and without intimidation,” Democrat Richard Blumenthal said in a conference call about the bill he co-sponsored with Republican Jerry Moran.
The bill gives Congress authority to dissolve the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee and decertify national governing bodies should they fail to protect athletes.
The Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act would also impose greater legal liability on both the USOPC and national governing bodies that oversee amateur sports for acts such as sexual abuse by coaches and employees.
The bill itself should be viewed with caution. It makes sense to increase federal oversight of sports governing bodies that exist to represent the US in international competitions, such as the USOC, USA Gymnastics, and other similar groups. For others, better enforcement of existing laws might fit better in a balance between federal power and private-market operation. After all, if Moran and Blumenthal are correct, the FBI could have stepped in fourteen months earlier under its existing authority and jurisdiction but just failed to do so. Fixing that failure should take precedence over an expansion of federal authority, so that we can then judge whether it’s needed and to what extent.