FBI's botching of the Larry Nassar case needs to be investigated

·6 min read

Even though there wasn’t much else he could say, it’s significant that FBI director Christopher Wray apologized Wednesday to the victims of Larry Nassar for the Bureau’s myriad failures in its sexual assault investigation of the former gymnastics doctor.

It just isn’t enough.

To summarize briefly, when given a credible complaint via USA Gymnastics about Nassar molesting gymnasts, the FBI’s Indianapolis field office did almost no actual investigating and shared no information with other authorities, effectively giving Nassar nearly a year to continue assaulting girls. He abused at least 70 additional victims during that period.

“That is inexcusable,” Wray said.

Also inexcusable is the still lack of transparency into the FBI’s handling of the case. A report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General that was released earlier this summer unveiled plenty of wrongdoing, but there still remains as many questions as answers.

While Wray deserves credit for implementing numerous reforms that should make such a disaster less likely in the future, the FBI shouldn’t be allowed to go forward until it thoroughly looks back.

So here’s what needs to happen next — either from Wray or the US Senate:

• The DOJ needs to explain why two FBI agents, one who retired and one who was fired just this month, have not been criminally charged. Unfortunately, the DOJ shamefully skipped Wednesday's hearing.

The DOJ report determined that special agent Jay Abbot “in an effort to minimize or excuse his errors, made false statements [concerning his activities].”

If former Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathy Kleges can be convicted in state court for lying to police when, in 2018, she told them she had no memory of a pair of complaints about Nassar in 1997, then why not a FBI agent for making “false statements” on far more recent behavior?

Additionally, what about agent Michael Langeman, who is accused of fabricating what gymnast McKayla Maroney told him about Nassar during an interview.

If nothing else, had Maroney turned out to be Nassar’s only victim, then Langeman’s deception would have given Nassar a powerful defense at trial — either a lying FBI agent or Maroney’s testimony not matching up with her original (and inaccurately reported) statements. He could have blown the entire case even after Nassar was caught.

“They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester,” Maroney said Wednesday.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman testifies as Inspector General Michael Horowitz, center, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, second from left, look on, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Dereliction of Duty: Examining the Inspector Generals Report on the FBIs Handling of the Larry Nassar Investigation, in Hart Building on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Simone Biles also testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Aly Raisman testifies as Inspector General Michael Horowitz, center, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, second from left, look on, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Dereliction of Duty: Examining the Inspector Generals Report on the FBIs Handling of the Larry Nassar Investigation. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

• The FBI and federal prosecutors need to explain why they were uncooperative with the attorney general's office in Michigan.

On Wednesday night, Angie Povilaitis, who prosecuted Nassar as an assistant attorney general of Michigan, detailed numerous issues her office had with the FBI and federal prosecutors when trying to bring Nassar to justice.

“When I first got the case in Oct. 2016, I/we had many meetings with local FBI/Fed officials,” Povilaitis tweeted. “I/we repeatedly asked what had been done between the July 2015 report to the FBI [and] the Indy Star reporting in August 2016. Our questions were never answered [and] were always evaded.”

So “FBI/Fed officials” in Michigan were evasive, to a prosecutor no less, in explaining what happened in Indiana?

Povilaitis further detailed how she was denied copies of reports by the FBI and weren’t provided the names of additional Nassar victims the feds knew about. Such information would have greatly aided the state as it built its case against Nassar, she said.

“It is hard to fathom, as someone who has spent her career working to protect kids and victims, that this was how the FBI/Justice department would handle such a serious case,” Povilaitis said. “Their misconduct, dishonesty and incompetency had real consequences.”

Povilaitis was essentially the first, and easily the most important person, to take this case against Nassar seriously. She’s considered a hero to many of Nassar’s victims.

When she has questions, answers need to follow.

• A second Inspector General investigation is needed to determine what exactly happened inside the FBI’s Indianapolis field office to allow the Nassar complaint to sit essentially dormant for so long. Who else knew about it? What other agents had their hands on the file? Why, even after the local Indianapolis Star newspaper published allegations against Nassar, was there so little action?

The Nassar case is likely the biggest to ever come through the Indianapolis office. Yet once it broke open, no one there — no other agents, no supervisors, no one — began asking what happened or demanding answers?

If the FBI was investigating a major criminal act inside a company would it quickly accept that it was just the work of one incompetent employee? Would they believe that not only did no one know anything, but no one else was even curious to find out?

And are we to just trust that this was the only time in their lengthy careers that Langeman “fabricated” testimony or Abbot lied about something? It would be one spectacular coincidence if the only two people who worked on such a high-profile case both just happened to engage in dishonest practices for the first time in their careers.

• There should be full answers to two cryptically worded footnotes in the original Inspector General report that noted: “During our investigation, the IOG also received allegations concerning the FBI’s handling of Nassar’s detention hearing. We will address these allegations separately.”

OK. When? Because that doesn’t sound like a minor item.

“It disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later,” Aly Raisman said on Wednesday, repeating her call for full, independent investigations of USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the FBI.

It should disgust everyone. That is why Wednesday’s hearing can’t fade off like typical political theater.

Wray should be disgusted. The DOJ should be disgusted. Every Senator on that committee should be disgusted.

The FBI apology and the new protocols are nice, but this is far more systemic. Another investigation is needed, with full transparency, because Larry Nassar was only able to leave a trail of terror behind him because he knew how to exploit the institutions that were supposed to stop him.

You’d think they’d like to know how he did it, if only to prevent the next guy.