Star Olympic gymnast Simone Biles denounced the FBI for turning "a blind eye" to the sexual abuse she and other young athletes suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in emotionally powerful testimony before a Senate panel Wednesday.
"It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to protect" the USA Gymnastics organization and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said Biles, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside three other women who were abused by Nassar.
"To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetuated his abuse," Biles said, at times welling up with emotion. This year, Biles won medals at the Olympics in Tokyo while also attracting attention, and widespread praise, for her candor in discussing mental health issues that led her to drop out of some events.
Nassar was team doctor for the US women's gymnastics team for almost two decades. More than 100 women accused him of sexual abuse. He was convicted in 2017 on a variety of state and federal charges and is serving sentences that amount to life without parole.
Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney testified that she was "shocked and deeply disappointed" that the FBI failed to initially report her abuse and then lied about it. She described in graphic detail one episode of abuse when she was alone with Nassar.
"Within minutes he had his fingers in my vagina," she said. As she recounted the assault, an FBI agent asked "Is that all?" as if "my abuse was not enough," she said.
"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. "They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester than protect not only me but other children."
Olympian Aly Raisman and collegiate gymnast Maggie Nichols also testified at the hearing on abuse they endured from Nassar.
The gymnasts, who appeared in person in a time when many congressional witnesses testify virtually, said they summoned the courage to tell their stories publicly in an effort to prevent sexual abuse from happening to young athletes again.
Senators blasted the FBI for failing to properly investigate evidence that Nassar sexually abused athletes.
FBI failures in its investigation into Nassar "paint a shocking picture of FBI dereliction of duty and gross incompetence," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said at the hearing.
"Today our focus is on the FBI: How did it fail so badly when it came to Larry Nassar's victims?" Durbin said. "Make no mistake, egregious failures like this one do not arise out of nowhere."
FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifying after the gymnasts departed, said he was "deeply and profoundly sorry" that the bureau had a chance to "stop this monster" but failed. Wray, who wasn't director at the time, pledged "that I and my entire senior leadership team will make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail." He said changes have been made, such as setting clearer standards on how to interview young people reporting abuse.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who also testified, said in a report in July that senior officials in the Indianapolis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to respond urgently to allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by Nassar, taking more than a year to gear up its investigation.
The report found that the bureau's Indianapolis office made "fundamental errors" when it did respond to the allegations, didn't properly document its findings, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office or state or local authorities of the allegations - and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.
Horowitz told the Senate committee Wednesday that the courageous women who testified "did so with the belief that they would protect other girls from abuse," he said. "Sadly, the response of the FBI agent who received that information betrayed their law enforcement responsibilities and their duty."
"Nassar's abuses could and should and should have been caught sooner if appropriate action had been taken," he said.
Durbin and the gymnasts who testified faulted the Justice Department for declining to prosecute any of the FBI personnel who failed to act - including one who sought a position with the U.S. Olympic Committee during the investigation, according to the report by Horowitz. They also criticized the department for declining to send a witness to Wednesday's hearing.
"These agents were not only derelict in their duty when it came to these young women but also did their best to cover up," he said.