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Report: USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar crafted 'false excuses' to explain his absences during investigation

USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar worked together to create "false excuses" to explain his absence from gymnastics meets during the early stages of an investigation of his sexual abuse.

According to emails obtained by the Indianapolis Star, Nassar and an attorney representing USA Gymnastics agreed on two separate occasions in the summer of 2015 to fabricate stories rather than explain at meets that some gymnasts had raised concerns about the former doctor's treatments.

Nassar first asked the attorney, Scott Himsel, to direct USA Gymnastics to say Nassar was sick. At a second meet, he asked them to say he was focusing on his private clinical practice. Himsel agreed to use both stories, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Himsel did not return messages seeking comment. He left the Indiana-based Faegre Baker Daniels law firm in 2016 and is currently listed as a professor of political science on the website of Wabash College, also in Indiana.

USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to announce his retirement in late September 2015 without acknowledging the open investigation into possible sexual misconduct. Michigan State, his employer at the time, says USA Gymnastics did not notify the school about the reasons for severing ties with the former doctor. Nassar continued seeing patients in Michigan for a full year before he was arrested and eventually convicted on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and child pornography possession, among others. More than a dozen girls and young women say they were assaulted during that year.

USA Gymnastics' decision to allow Nassar to retire without mentioning that he was under investigation was public knowledge last year, but the emails reported this week show that the organization was actively attempting to mislead others about why he was leaving.

USA Gymnastics is one of several defendants listed in hundreds of lawsuits filed by women who say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar. Earlier this week, current USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry apologized publicly to "all who were harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar." Perry, speaking at a congressional hearing on the Olympic community's handling of sexual assault accusations, said she hopes to resume mediation talks to settle those lawsuits in August. No dates to continue settlement talks have been scheduled, according to an attorney who represents dozens of the claimants in the lawsuits.

Nassar's decadeslong relationship with USA Gymnastics started to crumble in June 2015, when a coach overheard two elite gymnasts discussing the intravaginal treatment techniques that would eventually land Nassar in prison for up to 175 years. The coach reported her concerns to USA Gymnastics officials, who waited nearly six weeks before contacting law enforcement.

Himsel emailed Nassar on July 22 of that year -- roughly one week before USA Gymnastics reported the concerns to the FBI -- to tell him that "we need to address these concerns thoroughly and discreetly," according to the Star's report. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, who was interviewed about Nassar that summer, has previously said that former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny also urged her to be discreet when talking to others about Nassar.

In the same email, Himsel told Nassar that USA Gymnastics decided it would be best for Nassar to skip an upcoming meet for "personal reasons." Nassar suggested that saying he was sick would be more believable, and Himsel agreed to that approach.

A week later, and one day after the organization met with FBI officials, Himsel responded to an email from Nassar by telling him he should not attend USA Gymnastics events and to sever ties with its athletes until further notice. Himsel said he was "prepared to discuss" how they would explain Nassar's absence. Nassar requested that Himsel and others say that he was missing an upcoming meet for financial reasons having to do with his clinical practice.

Nassar announced his retirement from USA Gymnastics two months later in a lengthy Facebook post that outlined his career accomplishments. He did not provide a reason for his retirement in the post.