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Gymnastics

All The Times The FBI Did Not Seriously Investigate Larry Nassar But Did Try To Cover Its Ass

The FBI seal is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, DC on July 5, 2016.
Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images

Late last week, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice released its 119-page report on what the FBI got wrong when it received multiple reports of sexual abuse over a period of nearly a year regarding Larry Nassar, the former team doctor to the U.S. women’s national team in gymnastics. Many institutions, not just the FBI, failed to stop Nassar, including USA Gymnastics, the place where he worked, Michigan State University, and the university’s police department. But the FBI—allegedly one of our nation’s most serious law enforcement agencies—had not yet revealed everything its own agents failed to do. Some of what’s in this report is old, and some of it is new, but what’s most important is that the document confirms in great detail what many who followed the case had already deduced: the FBI received multiple reports about Nassar and, in response, did very little at all.

July of 2015: The first report

The first report to the FBI came in July of 2015 and went to the Indianapolis Field Office, probably because it came from then-USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny. USAG, like many Olympic sports organizations, is based in Indianapolis. Penny, per the report, gave the agents information he had received from three gymnasts—who all said they had been assaulted and whom he believed would speak to law enforcement—as well as a thumb drive with a PowerPoint given to USAG by Nassar in an attempt to disguise what he was doing as medical treatment. With this information and documentation, the agents did not do much. From the report:

The Indianapolis office did not formally document any of its investigative activity, including its July meeting with USA Gymnastics and its September 2 telephonic interview of one of the victim gymnasts. The office also did not formally open an investigation or assessment of the matter. The only 2015 Indianapolis Field Office documentation located by the OIG consisted of five pages of handwritten notes taken by two of the FBI attendees at the July 2015 meeting with USA Gymnastics, three pages of notes taken by the two agents at the September 2 interview of the one athlete, a handful of email exchanges between Penny and the FBI Indianapolis Field Office, and approximately 45 emails and text messages among agents and prosecutors.

This lack of documentation did not stop agents and federal prosecutors in Indianapolis from claiming that that they could not bring federal charges. But at no point did the FBI contact state or local law enforcement, who could have investigated Nassar for crimes at the state level. At no point did the FBI do anything to try and stop Nassar. And the Indianapolis office did not transfer the case to the FBI’s Lansing Office, which would have made sense because that’s the aera where Nassar worked and lived.

Fall of 2015: then-Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott talks to USAG’s Penny about a possible job

This is when, per the report, Abbott met with Penny at a bar called Red Habanero and talked about possibly getting a job with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. (This was reported by the New York Times in October of 2018 and in greater detail by the Wall Street Journal a month later.) Abbott and Penny continued talking about a potential job as the USOPC chief security officer—while Abbott also held the most senior position in the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office, the office that got the report about Nassar.

Abbott applied for a job with the USOPC in 2017. He did not get it.

“Abbott should have known—and in fact did know according to the evidence we found—that his actions would raise a question regarding his impartiality,” the report said. ” We further concluded that Abbott made false statements to the OIG about the job discussion, his application for the position, and his handling of the Nassar allegations.”

May of 2016: The second report

The second report to the FBI of sexual abuse by Nassar went to the Los Angeles Field Office in May of 2016. Like the first one, it came from USAG officials, who contacted the office with the same information they had presented in Indianapolis, the report said. The Los Angeles office did take the case a step further than Indianapolis, opening up an investigation and talking to several people who said they were assaulted. Between June and September of 2016, the Los Angeles agents interviewed 13 people, including six people who had been abused. But, like in Indianapolis, no agents in Los Angeles made the effort to contact state or local authorities. Like in Indianapolis, the report was not sent to the Lansing office. Like in Indianapolis, no steps were taken to stop Nassar from assaulting more people.

When asked why he did not contact authorities in Texas, as some of the sexual abuse happened in Texas, an anonymous special agent said he wanted to make sure what the gymnasts said was “legitimate” and added that, “Before going out and potentially wrongfully accusing somebody of something, I think it’s due diligence on our part to do at least some verification of the information that we are receiving before we potentially go out and unnecessarily ruin somebody’s career.”

October of 2016: The third report

The Lansing Field Office officially opened an investigation of Nassar on Oct. 5, 2016. This was, per the report, after MSU police had already begun investigating in August because they had received a complaint about Nassar, after the Indianapolis Star published the very first story reporting that two former gymnasts said Nassar had abused them, after dozens more women contacted MSUPD due to the Star‘s story, and after MSUPD executed a search warrant, which resulted in them finding child pornography in Nassar’s home.

The day the Nassar story came out in the Star, Penny emailed Abbott about it. Abbott wrote back, per the report, saying, “Thanks Steve, Hang in there. You’ll be all right.”

The report said that, based on what had been revealed in civil lawsuits, about 70 or more athletes were abused by Nassar between July 2015, when the first report went to the Indianapolis Field Office, and when MSUPD began investigating in September of 2016. According to the report, the abuse for “many” of those 70 had begun before the first FBI report, but the report does not give any number or even estimate for many people Nassar began abusing after July of 2015.

Early 2017: The FBI starts ass covering

Per the report’s timeline, at this point journalists were asking the FBI questions about what the FBI knew regarding Nassar and what its agents had or had not done. In response, Abbott suggested the FBI “release a statement indicating that the FBI had expeditiously responded to the Nassar allegations,” the report stated. That didn’t happen, but it did result in the FBI drafting a white paper that “omitted information about the FBI’s failure to timely interview the victim gymnasts,” the report said, “because it relied on information from the Indianapolis office.”

Meanwhile, the supervisory special agent in the Indianapolis office drafted an “electronic communication” on Feb. 1, 2017, that claimed a report had been taken in 2015 and sent to the Lansing office. A day later, the supervisory special agent also wrote a summary of one interview with a gymnast from 17 months earlier. Per the report, the agent wrote this summary using “only his one page of limited notes and memory and did not consult with his FBI co-interviewer or review her notes.” The gymnast later said the document included statements that she never made. The document also conflicts with the supervisory special agent’s own notes, the recollections of the other agent who was present for the interview, and what the gymnast later told other FBI agents.

Around the same time, Penny was still talking with Abbott. Penny told Abbott that he was worried about how USAG would look in reports coming out in 60 Minutes and the WSJ. In response, the report said: “Abbott proposed to his FBI colleagues a media statement that would place Penny and USA Gymnastics in a positive light. Although part of Abbott’s proposed media statement that concerned USA Gymnastics—that USA Gymnastics had reported the Nassar allegations to the FBI in July 2015—was accurate, other parts of it—that the FBI ‘initiated an investigation’ based on the information provided by USA Gymnastics in July 2015 and that the FBI had ‘remained in contact with officials at USA Gymnastics during the investigation’—were inaccurate.”

Early 2018: Now retired, Abbott tells a Times reporter that the FBI worked really hard on the Nassar case

Per the report:

Similar questions in early 2018 about the timeliness of the FBI’s handling of the Nassar allegations resulted in Abbott (who had recently retired from the FBI) providing a reporter with an inaccurate statement that claimed, among other things, that “there was no delay by the FBI on this matter” and that the Indianapolis Field Office had provided a “detailed report” to both the FBI Detroit and Los Angeles Field Offices. Further, these inquiries resulted in an official with the Indianapolis Field Office proposing factually inaccurate changes to the white paper created in 2017 that sought to place blame on others for the Indianapolis Field Office’s failures.

The reporter Abbott spoke with worked for the Times, which ran an article that did quote Abbott (but not his full statement) and focused instead on how nearly a year passed before anyone at the FBI talked to two gymnasts. Abbott complained about this to an FBI public affairs officer, writing in an email, “Can’t believe reporter omitted so much. He wasn’t going to let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

September 2020: No charges for Abbott

Prosecutors declined to prosecute Abbott and the supervisory special agent in Indianapolis in September.

You can read the full report below or by clicking here.