In vivid and emotional testimony at a Senate hearing Wednesday, four elite American gymnasts testified about the abuse they had suffered by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and their feelings of betrayal by investigators, including from the FBI which they say let them down.
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles tearfully said she blames Nassar and also "an entire system that allowed his abuse," including USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
"The scars of this horrific abuse continue," Biles testified, saying that "the impact of this man's abuse will never be over."
McKayla Maroney said Nassar "turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor."
She recalled sitting on her bedroom floor in 2015 telling the FBI on the phone "all of my molestations in extreme detail." She said that after describing instances of abuse by Nassar, including before her winning the team gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012, "I cried, and there was just silence" on the part of the FBI agent.
She said the FBI then falsified her statement, said the agents involved should be indicted and criticized Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco for not appearing at the hearing.
"I am tired of waiting for people to do the right thing," Maroney said.
Advocates for the women say as many as 120 athletes may have been abused by Nassar after the FBI first heard of the charges against him.
The Justice Department has not brought charges against either of the former FBI agents most closely involved in the case. The FBI fired Special Agent Michael Langeman in the last two weeks, FBI Director Christopher Wray later told the panel. Langeman's supervisor, Jay Abbott, previously resigned.
Aly Raisman said the FBI made her feel her "abuse didn't count"
Aly Raisman, also a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, called for an investigation of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She said the victims of Nassar's abuse have "been treated like adversaries."
Raisman said that all she and her fellow gymnasts are asking for "is when a child goes to gymnastics or goes to school or does anything that they can be spared abuse." She told the panel, "We've been victim-shamed online over and over again."
She said that the FBI "made me feel my abuse didn't count." She recalled sitting with an FBI agent and him "trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad."
Raisman said that it took her "years of therapy to realize my abuse was bad, that it does matter."
She later added that "all we needed was for one adult to do the right thing."
The FBI director apologized that the bureau let them down
Wray, testifying after the four gymnasts, said that the "kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should have never happened, period."
He told the gymnasts he was "deeply and profoundly sorry that so many people let you down over and over again."
Wray added "that on no planet is what happened in this case acceptable."
Senators on the panel had few questions for the gymnasts, but all expressed support and praised their courage for stepping forward.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked if they knew of other athletes abused by Nassar after the first incidents were reported to the FBI's Indianapolis field office in July 2015. All responded that they did.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that "the system failed you. That system needs to change. That system needs to be held accountable so that this doesn't happen again."
Durbin calls the FBI's handling a ''stain on the bureau"
In his opening statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called the FBI's handling of the case "a stain on the bureau."
"In the 15-month period that FBI officials shirked their responsibility, Nassar abused at least 70 young athletes," Durbin said. "For many of them, this was a continuation, but for others they were abused for the first time while the FBI sat on the case."
The four who testified Wednesday, including Maggie Nichols — who was the first to report Nassar's abuse to USA gymnastics in 2015 — are among hundreds of women and girls who said Nassar sexually abused them while claiming he was treating them. Nassar, who is serving an effective life sentence in prison, has admitted to abusing girls and women who were receiving treatment from him.
The panel also heard from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who in a recent report found that the bureau failed to investigate the abuse charges against Nassar adequately.
The July report by the inspector general's office found that senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis field office failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by Nassar "with the urgency that the allegations required." The inspector general said the Indianapolis field office also "made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations" by failing to notify the appropriate FBI field office in Lansing, Mich., where Nassar was employed by Michigan State University, or state or local authorities of the allegations, and "failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar."
In his prepared opening statement, the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said that children "suffered needlessly because multiple agents in multiple offices at the FBI neglected to share the Nassar allegations with their law enforcement counterparts at state and local agencies."