'We have been failed,' Olympic champion Simone Biles says in emotional testimony on sex abuse
Warning: This story may contain graphic details
Olympic gold medallists Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman blasted USA Gymnastics and the FBI in blunt and tearful testimony on Wednesday for standing by while Larry Nassar abused them and hundreds of other athletes.
"We have been failed and we deserve answers," Biles told the Senate judiciary committee, where she also appeared with Maggie Nichols, a former Olympic hopeful who was one of the first to report Nassar's abuse.
"It really feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us."
Maroney branded Nassar "more of a pedophile than a doctor," and in forceful terms assailed the FBI for failing to follow up on answers she gave them, describing in detail on Wednesday both Nassar's abuse and how he attempted to buy her silence by showering her with gifts. The USA Gymnastics team doctor even committed abuse in London while she was competing in the 2012 Summer Games, she said.
The hearing comes after the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a scathing report in July that blasted the FBI for botching its investigation, which allowed the abuse to continue for months.
'Heartsick and furious'
FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was left "heartsick and furious" by the report, and he apologized to each of the victims on behalf of the entire agency.
"I'm sorry so many different people let you down over and over again, and I'm especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed," said Wray.
WATCH | McKayla Maroney tesitifies about abuse:
The FBI's investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics president and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI field office in Indianapolis — the city in which USA Gymnastics has its headquarters — and provided agents with the names of three victims willing to be interviewed.
Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including the accounts of sexual abuse.
It was not until July of this year, with the release of the inspector general's report, that she learned what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.
"Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said," Maroney said, with anger in her voice.
Penny stepped down as head of USA Gymnastics in 2017 as a result of the scandal.
Raisman accused him, along with the U.S. Olympic Committee, of helping to cover up Nassar's abuse.
"Over the past few years, it has become painfully clear how a survivor's healing is affected by the handling of their abuse, and it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later," she said.
Difficult healing process
All of the athletes spoke of a difficult healing process as a result of the abuse.
"There are some days I'm getting better, some days I feel like I'm taking a couple of steps backwards, but that's OK," said Raisman.
Biles had to step away from some competitions at the recent Tokyo Olympics, and said Wednesday she had no doubts the trauma has affected her athletic performance.
Nassar, who had been the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts, was sentenced in federal court in 2017 to 60 years in prison on charges of possessing child sexual abuse material.
The following year, he was sentenced to up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for molesting female gymnasts under his care, including at his job with Michigan State University. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women.
FBI officials heavily criticized
The FBI office in Indianapolis, led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott in 2015, did not formally open an investigation after the allegations were first reported. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview, in an official report known as a 302, until February 2017 — well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.
When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with "materially false information and omitted material information," Horowitz's report determined. The office also failed to share the allegations with state or local law enforcement agencies.
"It is not only that the FBI failed to do its job, systematically and repeatedly. It is also the coverup — the coverup that occurred when FBI agents made materially false statements and deceptive omissions," Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
"My hope is that the Department of Justice, which was invited today and has declined to appear, will match your courage by explaining why those lies by FBI agents did not lead to criminal prosecution."
WATCH | U.S. gymnasts criticize FBI investigation:
Wray said the decision whether to charge an FBI agent or not is ultimately the responsibility of the Justice Department, and that he was unaware of the specific reasons that did not occur in this case.
Horowitz also said that Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI's conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
Wray made his frustration clear on Wednesday that there was no "recourse" within the agency to provide accountability for a retired employee. He confirmed multiple U.S. media reports emerging late Tuesday that the FBI agent in Indiana who failed to follow up on initial allegations, identified as Michael Langeman, was fired from the agency recently.
With files from CBC News