The Justice Department’s internal watchdog issued a scathing report Wednesday blasting the FBI for “multiple failures and policy violations” during early inquiries into allegations of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, who eventually admitted to serial sexual assault of girls in the USA Gymnastics program.
“The OIG found that, despite the extraordinarily serious nature of the allegations and the possibility that Nassar’s conduct could be continuing, senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies,” the long-awaited report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded.
Horowitz’s team found that in the summer of 2015, agents in Indianapolis waited five weeks to interview one victim who claimed she’d been abused by Nassar and never interviewed two other girls who reported abuse. After the first victim was interviewed, no formal report on the interview was prepared until February 2017, months after Nassar had been arrested on other state and federal charges, the watchdog report said.
The inspector general also reported that one FBI leader, now-retired Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, was mulling applying for a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while the FBI was considering how to handle the claims about Nassar.
More than 200 women have come forward to claim sexual abuse by Nassar, most of them during his nearly two decades as team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Nassar also worked as a team physician and assistant professor at Michigan State University.
“In the fall of 2015 … Abbott met with [then-USA Gymnastics President Stephen] Penny at a bar and discussed a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee,” the 117-page report says. “Abbott engaged with Penny about both his interest in the U.S. Olympic Committee position and the Nassar investigation, while at the same time participating in discussions at the FBI related to the Nassar investigation.”
As the two discussed both the Nassar case and its public relations impact on USA Gymnastics, Penny “appeared willing to put in a good word” for Abbott about the job, which was eventually given to someone else, the report says.
Horowitz’s office concluded that in addition to violating the FBI’s conflict-of-interest policy, after Abbott’s job-seeking came to light, he lied to investigators about 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 inspector general’s team wrote. “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.”
Despite the inspector general’s conclusion that Abbott and a supervisory special agent in the Indianapolis lied about their actions, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Abbott or other FBI agents over their alleged misconduct, the report says.
In an extraordinary letter appended to the report, a senior FBI official said that the law enforcement agency accepts Horowitz’s findings and recommendations in full.
“The actions and inactions of the FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization and the values we hold dear,” wrote Douglass Leff, assistant director for the FBI’s Inspection Division. “The conduct and facts in the report are appalling.”
Leff noted that Abbott retired in 2018, putting him beyond the reach of FBI discipline, and that his subordinate in Indianapolis is no longer a supervisor and “is not working on FBI matters” pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.
Leff called the faults identified in the report “completely unacceptable” and he said the FBI has taken immediate action to ensure that such failures do not happen again. The changes include modifications to FBI policies on documenting sexual abuse complaints, particularly about children.
After years of suspicion and a major exposé in the Indianapolis Star, Nassar was arrested in November 2016 on state sexual abuse charges and the following month on federal child pornography charges.
Nassar eventually pleaded guilty to both state and federal charges and was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.
Horowitz traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to brief lawmakers on the outcome of the review. Some members of Congress said they were profoundly troubled by the findings and the possibility that the FBI's mishandling of the case may have given Nassar time to assault more girls.
"The Justice Department and the FBI must never allow such investigative negligence to occur ever again," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “It was crystal-clear that what happened to these young women should have never happened. Yet, the FBI’s failures in investigating Nassar allowed at least 40 more young women to be assaulted by him."
"I am deeply concerned that the FBI may have been in a position to prevent some of the heinous acts of sexual abuse against these women and children and give them some measure of justice, but instead failed to act," Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Our own federal government allowed innocent women and children to be subjected to sexual abuse."
Portman called on "the administration" to explain why those FBI officials who allegedly lied to investigators were not prosecuted. However, the inspector general report says most of the decisions not to prosecute came last September, under the Trump administration, although a decision not to reopen aspects of the matter was made in May of this year.
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