US gymnasts testify before Congress about FBI's Nassar investigation

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 5:14 PM ET, Wed September 15, 2021
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1:11 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

FBI director: "I don't have a good explanation" for failures in Nassar case

Saul Loeb/Pool/AP
Saul Loeb/Pool/AP

FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked to explain what went wrong during the bureau's investigation of the Larry Nassar abuse claims. He responded, "I don't have a good explanation."

"It is utterly jarring to me. It is totally inconsistent with what we train our people on. Totally inconsistent from what I see from the hundreds of agents who work these cases every day," he added.

Wray reiterated that an agent involved in the investigation has been fired. 

He said that the FBI agents who handled this case "betrayed core duty" of protecting people.

The Senate hearing is ongoing, with lawmakers on the judiciary committee questioning Wray and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

More context: Allegations into Nassar were first brought to the agency in July 2015. Several violations of protocols led to months of delay, as captured in a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in July.

In recent weeks, an FBI agent accused in the inspector general's report of failing to launch a proper investigation was fired by the FBI, US law enforcement officials told CNN. A supervisor who was also singled out in the IG report for violating protocol and false statements retired from the FBI in January 2018.

CNN's Tierney Sneed contributed reporting to this post.

3:26 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

FBI director: "The actions and inaction" of the FBI detailed in the IG report "are totally unacceptable"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

In his opening statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the agency's failures in handling the assault case involving members of the US gymnastics team and Larry Nassar.

Wray made a promise and commitment to make sure the FBI doesn't just move on from this case and that FBI remembers it in "heartbreaking detail" and knows "the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their jobs."

"Finally, I'd like to make a promise to the women who appeared here today and to all survivors of abuse. I am not interested in simply addressing this [as] wrong and moving on. 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. We need to remember the pain that occurred when our folks failed to do their jobs. We need to study it. We need to learn from it. That is the best way I know to make sure that this devastating tragedy is never repeated," Wray said.

Throughout his opening statement, Wray rebuked the failures within his agency in handling the case.

"After I became FBI director and when I learned there were people at the FBI who had also failed these women, I was heartsick and furious," Wray said.

"I want to be crystal clear. The actions and inaction of the FBI employees detailed in this report are totally unacceptable. These individuals betrayed the core duty that they have of protecting people. They failed to protect young women and girls from abuse. The work we do certainly is often complicated and uncertain. We're never going to be perfect, but the kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should never have happened. Period. As long as I'm FBI director, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to make sure they never happen again," he said.

1:03 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

NOW: FBI director and Justice Department inspector general testify on Nassar investigation

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Pool
Pool

The first panel of today's hearing with US gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman has wrapped.

FBI Director Chris Wray and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz are testifying now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The star gymnasts ripped the FBI and the Justice Department in their testimony for how FBI agents mishandled abuse allegations brought against Larry Nassar and then made false statements in the fallout from the botched investigation.

Allegations into Nassar were first brought to the agency in July 2015. Several violations of protocols led to months of delay, as captured in a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in July.

1:03 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

"Being here today is taking everything I have," Aly Raisman tells Senate

Saul Loeb/Pool/AP
Saul Loeb/Pool/AP

Top USA gymnast Aly Raisman told a Senate hearing how her abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar continues to affect her every day, emphasizing the long lasting impact of trauma.

"I personally don't think that people realize how much experiencing this type of abuse is not something one just suffers in the moment. It carries on with them sometimes for the rest of their lives. For example, being here today is taking everything I have. My main concern is, I hope I have the energy even to just walk out of here. I don't think you realize how much it affects us, how much the PTSD, how much the trauma impacts us. For every survivor it's different," she said.

Raisman is one of the more than 150 women and girls who said USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them over the past two decades.

"Healing looks different for every survivor. The aftermath looks very different," Raisman continued. 

She described how she went from training seven hours a day for the Olympics to not having "enough energy to stand up in the shower" after she first shared her story publicly.

"I would have to sit on the floor and wash my hair because standing up was too exhausting for me. I couldn't even go for a 10 minute walk outside. This is someone, I've competed in two olympic games," Raisman said, adding that her 80-year-old grandfather has more energy than she does at 27.

"It has affected my health. In the last couple of years, I've had to be taken in an ambulance because I passed out. I'm so sick from just the trauma. It might not even be after a hearing like this. It just hits me out of the blue. So I think it's important for people to understand how much, you know, even if we're not crying, how much we are all struggling and how much survivors are suffering, because people often say, well, why did you just come forward now? Because it's terrifying to come forward, the fear of not being believed, but also because it affects us so much. Sometimes it's impossible just to say the words out loud," Raisman said.

"It's important for people to start recognizing you may never know what someone else is going through. But for people who have been through trauma, it's really hard," she added.

Raisman's testimony today is part of a Senate committee hearing on the FBI’s handling of the Nassar investigation. The Justice Department's inspector general found FBI officials investigating the allegations violated the agency's policies by making false statements and failing to properly document complaints by the accusers.

12:10 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

How to help survivors of sexual assault

Coverage of today's hearing may have elicited strong emotions for some people.

That’s especially true for those who are survivors of sexual violence.

If you or someone you know is dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, there are organizations that can help. Many are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will confidentially listen, answer questions, provide local and legal resources and help determine the next steps.

3:28 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

FBI investigation was primarily handled by male agents, gymnasts say

The panelist of USA gymnasts was asked during the hearing by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, if any of them had a female FBI agent in the room while they were questioned by investigators.

McKayla Maroney said that she never had a female agent "alongside me" during the investigation.

Simone Biles said that there was a female agent in the room with her at the Olympic training center in 2016 when she spoke to investigators, but most of the questioning was done by men.

Aly Raisman said that she thought there was a female agent in the room at the Olympic training center as well, "but I'm not entirely sure. "

"If I recall, my direct communication was with a male FBI agent," she said.

1:04 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

Aly Raisman says it's "devastating" that girls went to see Nassar because she and her teammates did

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Olympian Aly Raisman said she feels tremendous guilt for more girls being abused by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

"I can't tell you how horrifying it is to meet young girls who look up to me, who watched me compete in the Olympics and tell me that they went to see Nassar because of me and my teammates, because they wanted to see the Olympic doctor. And I guess in his office, Nassar's office, he had some photos of us. And so they went to see him because they thought it was so cool to have the same doctor as us. And so that's been one of the hardest and most devastating parts for me. So many survivors suffer with guilt and shame," Raisman told members of Congress.  

All of the testifying gymnasts — Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols — said they know of athletes who were abused by Nassar after July 2015, when the allegations were first brought to the FBI. Violations of protocols led to months of delay, which was documented in a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in July.

Raisman said that she and her mother followed up many times after she reported abuse, and they were assured that it was being worked on and to keep quiet.

"It takes everything I have to work on not taking the blame for that, because it is, it's horrific. It's horrible to meet them and to know that over 100 victims could have been spared the abuse, if all we needed was one adult to do the right thing," she said.

11:55 a.m. ET, September 15, 2021

Simone Biles: Those involved in failed Nassar investigation should be federally prosecuted

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Saul Loeb/Pool/AP
Saul Loeb/Pool/AP

Olympian Simone Biles said she and survivors of abuse by Larry Nassar want to see those involved in the botched FBI investigation into the former USA Gymnastics doctor "at least be federally prosecuted to the fullest extent because they need to be held accountable," in response to a question posed by Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Leahy responded, "As a former prosecutor, I agree with that."

Prior to Biles' statement, fellow Olympian Aly Raisman said "genuine accountability" means a complete overhaul of the system and a full investigation into the FBI, US Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.

11:56 a.m. ET, September 15, 2021

Aly Raisman: FBI made me feel "like my abuse didn't count, that it wasn't a big deal" 

Saul Loeb/Pool/AP
Saul Loeb/Pool/AP

Top USA gymnast Aly Raisman called for a "complete and full independent investigation" of the FBI, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee's failure to investigate the abuse claims against Larry Nassar.

She added, "And then from there, then we will know the answers of who should be held accountable."

Raisman said that the FBI made her feel "like my abuse didn't count, that it wasn't a big deal." 

"I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad. It's taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter," she told lawmakers.