The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday said it will hold an oversight hearing on the FBI’s “dereliction of duty” following the release of a watchdog report that criticized the bureau for not responding to sexual abuse allegations against USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar with the “seriousness and urgency” required.
“The FBI’s failure in this case led to more athletes being victimized,” committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement, according to The Hill. “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 IG report confirms my fears that the FBI dropped the ball, allowing abuses to continue for months,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement.
“The Judiciary Committee’s upcoming hearing is a continuation of our oversight to get to the bottom of this,” Grassley said. “The FBI owes the American people an accounting for its failure to protect these children, and [an] explanation for how it plans to do better in the future.”
The watchdog report raises troubling questions about how the department and the FBI handled the case, and it highlights major missteps at the FBI between the time the allegations were first reported and Nassar’s arrest.
The inspector general’s investigation was spurred by allegations that the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made in 2015 against Nassar. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own investigation, and the organization’s then-president, Stephen Penny, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it took months before the bureau opened a formal investigation.
The FBI acknowledged conduct that was ”inexcusable and a discredit” to America’s premier law enforcement agency. More athletes said they were sexually abused before the FBI swung into action.
At least 40 girls and women said they were sexually abused over a 14-month period while the FBI was aware of other, similar allegations involving Nassar. Officials at USA Gymnastics also contacted FBI officials in Los Angeles in May 2016 after eight months of inactivity from agents in Indianapolis.
The inspector general’s office found that “despite the extraordinarily serious nature” of the claims against Nassar, FBI officials in Indianapolis did not respond with the “utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required.”
When they did respond, the report said, FBI officials made “numerous and fundamental errors” and also violated bureau policies. Among the missteps was a failure to conduct any investigative activity until more than a month after meeting with USA Gymnastics. Agents interviewed one of three athletes by phone, but never spoke with two other gymnasts despite being told they were available to meet.
The watchdog investigation also found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the matter came under scrutiny, officials there did not take any responsibility for the missteps and gave incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries to make it appear they had been diligent in their investigation.
Nassar, who was charged with federal pornography and sexual abuse offenses in Michigan in 2016, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018 after he pleaded guilty to 10 molestation charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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