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

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

From CNN's Tierney Sneed


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.
11:34 a.m. ET, September 15, 2021

"Healing is a rollercoaster": Raisman shares advice for other athletes suffering abuse

USA gymnast Aly Raisman was asked for her advice to other young athletes suffering in silence or wrestling with the decision to speak out about abuse.

"The first thing I would want to say to anybody that's watching that's suffering in silence or has been through something really traumatic is that I support them, I believe them," Raisman told a Senate committee hearing on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation.

"Just be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Know that I'm struggling, too. I'm still navigating how to heal from this. Healing is a roller coaster. Some days I feel better, some days I feel like I'm taking a bunch of steps backwards. That's okay. We're all human, all doing the best that we can," Raisman said.

"I would encourage whoever is out there that's listening to tell someone whenever they feel comfortable, and it's so important to have a good support system and a community around you. If you're someone out there that doesn't have a good support system, that's okay. Sometimes it can take some time to find a good support system. I encourage you to not give up until you find that support that you deserve. And just remember that I believe you, I support you, you are not alone, and I encourage you to ask for help," she continued. 

USA gymnast McKayla Maroney, who is also testifying at the hearing, added her advice for others.

"I would just want to say that they need to know their abuse is enough. I think for so long, all of us questioned, that just because someone wasn't fully validating us, that we doubted what happened to us. That's always going to take the healing process take longer. I think the second I gave that to myself is when I really began to heal and began to get my voice back. That took a long time. I think to reach out to other survivors and speak to them and hear their stories is what continues to help me heal. Hearing all these girls speak is what continues to make me want to be here today and help others," Maroney said.

The two gymnasts are some 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. Nassar was convicted and sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.

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.

11:58 a.m. ET, September 15, 2021

USA Gymnastics and the FBI "betrayed" victims of Nassar abuse, gymnast Maggie Nichols says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

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

Gymnast Maggie Nichols, who has accused former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar of abuse, said she still has "few answers" six years after reporting it. She accused USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of allowing Nassar to keep abusing others.

Nichols reported Nassar to US Gymnastics in 2015, alleging that his inappropriate touching started when she was 15 and that he also sent her Facebook messages complimenting her looks.

"My Olympic dreams ended in the summer of 2015 when my coach and I reported Larry Nassar's abuse to USAG leadership," Nichols told members of Congress.

"I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics over six years ago, and so my family and I received few answers and have even more questions about how this was allowed to occur and dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported," she said.

Nassar also worked for Michigan State University from 1997 until 2016.

"In sacrificing my childhood for the chance to compete for the United States, I am haunted by the fact that even after I reported my abuse, so many women and girls had to suffer at the hands of Larry Nassar," she said.

Nichols said she was not interviewed by the FBI for more than a year after she reported the abuse.

"The coverup of my abuse and the FBI's failure to interview me for more than a year after my complaint are well-documented in the OIG report. After I reported my abuse to USA Gymnastics, my family and I were told by their former president, Steve Penny, to keep quiet and not say anything that could hurt the FBI investigation. We now know there was no real FBI investigation occurring. While my complaints [were] with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls," she said.

She said from the day she reported her abuse, she was treated differently by gymnastics officials.

"An important question remains, perhaps the most important question: why? Why would the FBI agents lie to OIG investigators? Why would the FBI not properly document evidence that was received? Why would the FBI agent be interested in the USAG presidency? These questions remain unanswered. The survivors of Larry Nassar have a right to know why their well being was placed in jeopardy by these individuals who chose not to do their jobs," Nichols said.

"For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice," she said.