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FBI Director Testified On How Agents Handled The Larry Nassar Case

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

America's top gymnast delivered a powerful indictment against the FBI's failures to stop child sexual abuse. It came during a Senate hearing today about how FBI agents did nothing to stop former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar from exploiting child athletes for years. Here's gymnast Simone Biles.

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

CHANG: Joining us now are NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson and sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi to both of you.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: Tom, let's start with you. There was some wrenching testimony today from several gymnasts. Can you just talk a little more about what they described today?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, Ailsa, it was powerful and emotional, as you heard from Simone Biles. And there was anger, too, particularly from McKayla Maroney. She won Olympic - an Olympic gold medal in the team event in London in 2012. She described her sexual abuse by Nassar in awful detail. And she talked about the summer of 2015, when she told her story to the FBI and how angry she is that the FBI sat on the information for more than a year. Here she is.

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MCKAYLA MARONEY: 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?

CHANG: And, Carrie, I mean, the FBI's handling of the Nassar case - I mean, it's gotten really sharp criticism from senators on both sides of the aisle. How did Chris Wray, the FBI director, respond to all of that criticism?

JOHNSON: Well, the FBI director said two weeks ago, he fired one of the agents, the FBI agents, who was identified in a Justice Department watchdog report as falling down on the job. The other agent who was cited in that report retired about three years ago, so he is beyond the reach of any FBI discipline. And, of course, that FBI agent was actually looking for a job at the Olympic Committee during the Nassar investigation. The FBI director says he's heartsick and profoundly sorry to these brave athletes who shared their stories. Here's more from Chris Wray.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: And I'm especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed. And that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we're doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.

JOHNSON: Ailsa, the Justice Department twice considered whether to prosecute those two FBI employees in Indianapolis, but it declined to prosecute those men for lying, which frustrated the survivors and the senators today.

CHANG: I can imagine. Tom, I mean, it has been six years since details began emerging about Larry Nassar's case. Did we learn anything new today about this scandal and how it's been handled?

GOLDMAN: You know, we didn't learn a lot new other than, you know, this FBI involvement. I think Simone Biles' presence was notable. She hasn't talked about this a lot since she publicly revealed her abuse in 2018. We also got a sense that her recent difficulties at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, pulling out of several events, may have been linked to the scandal. As she said, the impact of this man's abuse is never over.

We also heard again, mainly from Aly Raisman, that many survivors still want a thorough, independent investigation of not only the FBI, but USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees and why these organizations didn't protect athletes. A statement from the USOPC noted it did commission in 2018 what it calls a fully independent and exhaustive investigation that led to significant reforms. But Gymnastics insider Jessica O'Beirne, host of "GymCastic" podcast, told me many survivors are not happy with that investigation.

CHANG: Well, what about the FBI, Carrie? What sort of changes does the FBI say it's already made to make sure it never ignores cases like this again?

JOHNSON: The FBI director says he's beefed up training. They've reinforced this policy of interviewing assault survivors in person rather than over the phone, as McKayla Maroney talked about today. They have teams of forensic investigators trained in how to ask questions of kids and teens, hopefully with more sensitivity. Chris Wray also says there's some new paperwork requirements for agents. They have to document when investigations move from one field office in the country to another. And he stressed there's a need for urgency and to keep state and local authorities in the loop. Ailsa, though, these aren't revolutionary things. It underscores how basic and how deep these FBI failures were in the Nassar case. It's not rocket science. Just do your jobs.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson and Tom Goldman. Thank you so much to both of you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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