U.S. Olympics gymnasts McKayla Maroney (L) and Aly Raisman attend a press conference Wednesday after testifying during a Senate judiciary committee hearing about the Inspector General's report on the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar investigation of sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 15 (UPI) -- In emotional testimony before Congress on Wednesday, four American gymnasts related stories about their experience with former Team USA physician Larry Nassar, who is now in prison for sexually abusing a number of women in his care.
Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, and former national team member Maggie Nichols spoke during a Senate judiciary committee hearing to examine the FBI's handling of the Nassar investigation.
The gymnasts told lawmakers they were disappointed with how their accusations were received.
"I don't want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete, or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day," Biles said in her opening statement. "I blame Larry Nassar -- and I also blame an entire system that perpetrated his abuse."
Wednesday's hearing is a direct result of a report early this summer by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which found "numerous and fundamental" investigative failures by the FBI in the case.
Nassar is serving 40 to 175 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography and tampering with evidence in 2017, and sexual assault of a minor in 2018. More than 150 female athletes have said Nassar had abused them under the guise of treatment.
Wednesday, the athletes said the FBI and USA Gymnastics knew of the abuse for years but still allowed Nassar to have access to young gymnasts. Raisman said there should be a full-scale investigation of USA Gymnastics, the sport's governing body, the body's Paralympics arm and the FBI.
"We can't fix a problem we don't understand," she said, recalling that an FBI agent she spoke with downplayed her accusations and her overall traumatic experience.
Maroney said some in USA Gymnastics and law enforcement doubted her claims -- and effectively forced the gymnasts to question their experiences.
"To reach out to other survivors and to listen to them tell their stories, continues to help me heal," Maroney said.
She said the FBI "made entirely false claims" about what she said when she told agents about her abuse in 2015. She said they didn't report her allegations until 17 months later.
Horowitz said the false information may have damaged the case against Nassar.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI fired agent Michael Langeman, who interviewed Maroney in 2015, last week. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., questioned why Langeman and agent in charge Jay Abbott haven't been criminally charged for their handling of the case.
"Now, Director Wray, ... if I were in your shoes, I would be walking across the street to the attorney general of the United States, and I would be saying, 'You need to prosecute.' Why aren't you doing that?" Blumenthal asked.
All four athletes at the hearing said they knew about fellow gymnasts who were being abused -- even after the FBI was notified of the accusations against Nassar.
"I can't tell you how horrifying it is to meet young girls who look up to me and watched me compete in the Olympics and tell me they went to see Nassar because of me and my teammates and they wanted to see the Olympic doctor," Raisman said. "They thought it was so cool to have the same doctor as us.
"It takes everything I have to work on not taking the blame for that."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the Nassar scandal is "every parent's nightmare" and that the system failed them.
FBI field offices took complaints involving Nassar as early as 2016, Horowitz's report noted, and the bureau's Indianapolis field office interviewed only one of three athletes who were made available to them. Authorities also failed to transfer the matter to the Lansing, Mich., office after they were told to do so and failed to inform local authorities.
"The FBI's failure in this case led to more athletes being victimized," judiciary committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement before Wednesday's hearing.
"This committee has the responsibility of oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- and will hold a hearing to examine this injustice and to prevent future, similar tragedies."
"The FBI owes the American people an accounting for its failure to protect these children and explanation for how it plans to do better in the future," ranking committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement.
Wray said that though he felt "heartsick and furious" when he learned of the failures in the case, he felt individuals within the agency were to blame, not the organization as a whole.
"I want to make sure that the public knows that the reprehensible conduct reflected in this report is not representative of the work that I see from our 37,000 folks every day," he said.
USA Gymnastics and a committee representing survivors announced last week that they had agreed to a $425 million settlement that could bring an end to the long-running saga. The settlement must be approved by bankruptcy creditors and a majority of the victims.