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Gymnasts Testify That The FBI Failed To Protect Them Against Nassar

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Larry Nassar, the former Olympics team doctor convicted of multiple cases of sexual assault, is currently serving up to 175 years in prison. Today in Washington, a Senate hearing made it clear that there are still many outstanding questions about how the FBI handled their investigation of that abuse.

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ALY RAISMAN: It disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.

CHANG: That is Aly Raisman, who, along with three other Olympic Team U.S.A. gymnasts - Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and McKayla Maroney - told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI mishandled its investigation of Larry Nassar. Here is Simone Biles.

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SIMONE BILES: To be clear - sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Take your time.

BILES: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar. And I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

CHANG: McKayla Maroney said the FBI did not report her abuse for 14 months and falsified her testimony when they did.

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MCKAYLA MARONEY: Let's be honest. By not taking immediate action from my report, they allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year. And this inaction directly allowed Nassar's abuse to continue. What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?

CHANG: Joining us to talk about the hearing and the athletes' testimony is John Manly. He's an attorney representing the women who spoke today. And also joining us is U.S. gymnast Jessica Howard. Thank you both for being here. I know it's been a really tough day.

JOHN MANLY: Thank you for having us.

CHANG: Jessica, I want to start with you. You know, as we mentioned, Larry Nassar is in prison. He almost certainly will never get out. But for you and the women who testified today, this is not at all over. Why do you think it is important to pursue this question of the FBI's failures here?

JESSICA HOWARD: You know what? It's been wild. And I, even today, have run through the gamut of emotions that I've felt over the last four years. But I think what has been underscored today and what was spoken about by the senators and what was spoken about by anybody who's read the report is that this isn't just Larry Nassar. This is a systemic problem that affects government-run organizations, the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S.A. Gymnastics, all the organizations and now the FBI. There is no excuse. People talk about mishandling. This is the opposite of mishandling. This is dead failure. Like I - there's just no excuse.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, both Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney - they were very clear today that they do not trust the system. And I'm wondering, what about you? Do you ultimately trust the system? How do you feel?

HOWARD: You know, I don't. That's one of the difficult things that I've had to deal with personally as well. And I'm sure they're on their recovery journeys. And they were so powerful today that, I mean, I just - I can't imagine anybody not being affected after hearing their testimonies. But no, why would I believe in anything that's happened so far in this case? At every single turn, we've been diminished. At every single turn, we've been told we were not enough. At every single turn, we've been told we were lying. At every single turn, we've been told, oh, it's just Larry Nassar. It was just a few bad apples. And it's so far beyond that point now that, no, I absolutely do not believe in the system, in any of the systems.

CHANG: And yet...

HOWARD: I do believe in people.

CHANG: ...You still showed up at the Senate...

HOWARD: And I hope that they can make those changes.

CHANG: And yet you still showed up today at the Senate hearing. Tell me why you felt it was important to still show up and make an appearance inside the system, despite how you feel?

HOWARD: The team of people that have been working on this from the beginning, since it began to come out, have been nothing but utterly faithful to the gymnasts. And they have kept their promises, and they have shown us that this is not just something they're doing, you know, for a headline. And that's why we're here today.

And I'm here today because of the 120 victims that were served to Larry, trafficked to Larry Nassar, a horrible predator. And honestly, like, again, I hate just saying cliche things, but it is literally on a silver platter. And the youngest was 8 that we know of. 120 girls, 8-year-olds - they were all exposed to Larry Nassar during that five-month period where all of the communication that was happening between Steve Penny and the FBI was...

CHANG: 14 months, according to some reports about the failures for the FBI to take action. John Manly, let me turn to you in the last moments we have. What do you hope to see after this hearing? What is the next legal step, in your mind?

MANLY: Well, No. 1, I think there needs to be a - we're hoping that the Justice Department and the White House will insist that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate this. Anybody that thinks this was a couple of errant FBI agents that just, you know, helped Steve Penny cover this up is naive. This is clearly - there's clearly more to this story. And as Jessica said and Aly said and McKayla said and Simone said, no, we don't have answers. And you know, the fact that the FBI covered this up and literally these agents conspired with U.S.A. Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to cover up Larry Nassar - those aren't my words, that's the Senate and the Office of the Inspector General report on this - is beyond belief. McKayla reported her abuse, and they falsified her report...

CHANG: Right.

MANLY: ...To protect Larry Nassar. That's unbelievable. And if they can do that to these women, what hope does an ordinary American have? You know, Martha Stewart went to jail...

CHANG: All right.

MANLY: ...For lying to the FBI.

CHANG: All right.

MANLY: And these agents lied repeatedly, and they're not being prosecuted.

CHANG: I am so sorry. We will have to leave it there. That is attorney John Manly and U.S. gymnast Jessica Howard. Thank you both so much for your time.

MANLY: Thank you.

HOWARD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.