Just days before the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics, a bipartisan group of senators came forward to issue a harsh rebuke of the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics and call for a congressional committee to investigate their handling of the allegations of abuse by former team physician Larry Nassar.
At a news conference Wednesday to publicly introduce a Senate resolution to establish the panel, led by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the lawmakers lauded the bravery of the more than 200 women who have come forward publicly with stories of sexual abuse at the hands of disgraced doctor.
Many of the women shared their testimonies about Nassar’s decades of abuse during his hearings. During a hearing in Eaton County, Michigan, an angry father lunged at Nassar.
“As a mom and as a grandmother who now has a young granddaughter in sports, I thought, ‘You know, I would’ve liked five minutes with this guy,’ ” Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, said in reference to the event. “I only wished that the security had been a little slower in constraining him until he could’ve gotten a couple of punches out, because of all of us understand how disruptive and how outrageous this perversion and this man’s actions have been.”
Nassar was sentenced Monday to 40 to 125 years in prison – the last of his sentencings.
“While it began with a conviction of Larry Nassar, this is not where this ends,” Ernst said. “I’m immensely proud of the courageous young athletes who stood up and fought to ensure that Larry Nassar would never lay his hands on another athlete.”
Ernst and Shaheen’s resolution would be “entirely focused on investigating how this abuse was allowed to go on for so long and why leaders of the USOC and USA Gymnastics failed to protect these young women, and a path forward to put an end to this type of outrageous abuse,” according to Ernst.
“The US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics need to be held accountable,” Shaheen said at the news conference.
“This is not a simple case of negligence or failed oversight,” she noted. “There is ample evidence that many were alerted multiple times to Nassar’s behavior and they found excuses to look the other way.”
In addition to Stabenow, Shaheen and Ernst were joined by Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who are co-sponsoring the legislation.
Shaheen said she was hopeful that Senate leadership would back the effort. The special committee, once established, would be expected to produce a report by the end of the next session of Congress. At least half of the committee members would be required to be women.
The public introduction of the resolution followed reports that the US Olympic Committee had been alerted to the abuse as early as 2015, but failed to act on the allegations. Ernst and Shaheen have called for the committee’s CEO, Scott Blackmun, to resign.
“His inaction also further underscores the immediate need for a special committee in the Senate to complete a comprehensive investigation so that those at USOC and USA Gymnastics who were in positions of power and failed to intervene and protect American athletes, are held accountable,” they said in a joint statement.
The bipartisan senators called to establish a Senate committee in late January, and their formal introduction of the resolution follows a letter from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, petitioning the Justice Department to open a criminal probe into the US Olympic Committee.
The US Olympic Committee has called for an investigation by an “independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long.” USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, where Nassar was also employed, also face a number of investigations and lawsuits.
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Sarah Mucha contributed to this report.