FBI seriously mishandled Larry Nassar case, according to Justice Dept. watchdog

Senior FBI officials failed on several fronts to properly handle claims of sexual abuse made against disgraced Olympic doctor Larry Nassar, according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Justice's inspector general.

FBI officials in Indianapolis first learned of allegations against Nassar in July 2015. Agents waited five weeks to conduct any interviews on the matter and then failed to follow protocol in sharing information with others in the bureau and other law enforcement agencies. Nassar, who later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment, continued to see patients for more than a year until a separate complaint made to police in Michigan resulted in his arrest. More than 70 women and girls claim in civil lawsuits that Nassar sexually assaulted them during that yearlong period after the FBI received complaints about him.

The report said FBI officials on the case did not respond with the "seriousness and urgency" required by serious allegations. The investigators also found the supervisory special agent in Indianapolis failed to properly document complaints, mishandled evidence and made false statements about the case. A now-retired FBI agent made false statements under oath, as well, leading two U.S. senators to call for criminal charges.

"There were a number of documents and oral statements made to investigators that were plainly false," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who led a Congressional investigation of the Nassar case along with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. "I would like to know why there were no criminal charges and whether these agents will be held accountable. There has to be a measure of accountability."

Wednesday's report says W. Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the Nassar case in Indianapolis, provided false statements to the justice department investigators about his interest in working for USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The investigators also found that Abbott showed "extremely poor judgement" in the relationship he developed in 2015 with then-USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny.

Abbott met Penny at a bar in Indianapolis in October 2015, three months after Penny first provided the FBI with information about Nassar. The two men discussed a potential job for Abbott as a security officer for the U.S Olympic Committee after he retired from the FBI. Penny recommended Abbott for the position in an email he sent to the USOC's chief security officer. According to the report, Abbott later applied for that position in 2017 and considered applying to replace Penny as the USA Gymnastics president when Penny resigned under pressure as news of the Nassar allegations garnered more attention. Abbott told the inspector general's office under oath in 2019 that he never expressed interest in those positions.

Abbott retired from the FBI in January 2018, one month after Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges.

In response to Wednesday's report, FBI assistant director Douglas Leff wrote that Abbott's conduct was "particularly troubling" and "is not representative of the FBI or of our tens of thousands of retirees and current employees." Leff wrote that the supervisory special agent, who was not named in the report, is no longer a supervisor and that the bureau "took immediate action to ensure that the individual is not working on FBI matters."

Attorney John Manly, who represents more than 150 of Nassar's survivors, joined the senators in calling for the attorney general to pursue criminal charges against the FBI agents in Indianapolis.

"These women and girls not only deserved to have their case thoroughly investigated but deserved the respect and full attention of those investigating their case," Manly said in a statement. "Instead, at least two senior FBI agents lied, intentionally fabricated a victim's statement, and falsely denied any crime had been committed, in order to protect USA Gymnastics; presumably in exchange for the prospect of a high paying post bureau job in the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee."

Nassar remains in federal prison, where he is serving a 60-year sentence for child pornography charges that stem from material police found on his property in September 2016. He also pleaded guilty in 2018 to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan state court, which added up to 175 years to his time in prison.

Penny was arrested in October 2018 on charges of felony evidence tampering related to a separate incident when he allegedly instructed an employee to remove documents from the Texas training facility where Nassar treated many Olympic-level gymnasts. His attorneys have previously told ESPN that any assertion that Penny was trying to curry favor with Abbott by helping him find a post-retirement job with the U.S. Olympic Committee is "absurd."

"The only favor that Steve wanted from Agent Abbott or anyone at the FBI was for them to promptly and thoroughly investigate Nassar," the attorneys said.

The FBI's investigation was neither prompt nor thorough, according to the inspector general's report. FBI agents in Indianapolis interviewed only one of the three gymnasts who told USA Gymnastics officials about Nassar's conduct in 2015. The FBI did not formally document or open an investigation, according to Wednesday's report.

Investigators found that an assistant U.S. attorney advised the Indianapolis-based agents in September 2015 to transfer their case to the FBI's Lansing Resident Agency in Michigan, where Nassar lived and saw most of his patients. The Indianapolis office failed to make that transfer, despite telling USA Gymnastics officials that it had shared information with the Michigan office.

Eight months later, in May 2016, USA Gymnastics officials contacted the FBI's Los Angeles field office to raise the same concerns about Nassar. Agents in Los Angeles said they found no record of a formal complaint filed in Indianapolis. According to the inspector general, the Los Angeles field office interviewed several of Nassar's alleged victims but "did not take any action to mitigate the risk to gymnasts that Nassar continued to treat."

Meanwhile, Penny told the families of gymnasts Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols and McKayla Maroney not to speak to others about their claims against Nassar. Penny's attorneys said he was under the impression that public mentions of allegations against Nassar could jeopardize the FBI's investigations.

Nassar was allowed to quietly resign from his post as national medical coordinator for the women's national team in September 2015. He continued to see gymnasts in Michigan for a full year before he was arrested.

Rachael Denhollander, who made the police report that eventually led to Nassar's arrest in 2016, said Wednesday's report confirms what they knew about the FBI's mistakes but also shows there is no mechanism to hold bad actors accountable for their failures.

"We know the corruption is there, but there has been no accountability, no consequences, no justice," Denhollander told ESPN. "There is zero motivation for anyone at the FBI to do it right if they aren't held accountable."

Denhollander said she hopes Wednesday's report will place renewed pressure on USA Gymnastics and the USOPC to take responsibility for their role in Nassar's continued abuse. Those organizations have yet to settle hundreds of lawsuits filed by Nassar's survivors.

The inspector general's office recommended that the FBI should update and clarify several of its policies, including how it shares information with other law enforcement agencies. Sens. Blumenthal and Moran said they hope to hold a Congressional hearing soon to understand why the justice department did not pursue criminal charges as a result of the report.

Information from ESPN's John Barr was used in this report.