The Justice Department is reviewing its decision not to charge Indianapolis-based FBI agents who failed to properly investigate sex abuse allegations leveled against Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused his patients, including world-famous gymnasts.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco made the announcement at a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers on the panel have sharply criticized the Justice Department for not pursuing false-statements charges against a supervisory FBI agent and his boss for what the agency’s inspector general concluded were lies to internal investigators to cover up their failures.
Monaco told the committee that the newly confirmed head of the criminal division, Kenneth Polite, “is currently reviewing this matter, including new information that has come to light.” She did not say what the new information was but said the review is being conducted with “a sense of urgency and gravity.”
It is rare for the Justice Department to even consider reopening a case that has been closed without charges. In the case of the Nassar agents, one retired years ago; the other was fired this summer in the wake of a scathing report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that found major missteps in the FBI’s handling of allegations against Nassar in 2015, allowing him to victimize scores more patients before he was arrested by state authorities the following year.
The Justice Department review comes less than a month after Simone Biles and three other high-profile gymnasts gave emotional testimony to the Judiciary Committee about how they had been abused by Nassar and how the FBI had failed to act on the allegations.
“I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles told the committee.
More than 330 girls and women have come forward to say they were victimized by Nassar under the guise of medical treatments. He was ultimately convicted of state sex abuse and federal child pornography charges, and is serving an effective life sentence in prison.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Monaco apologized to those Nassar victimized, saying, “I am deeply sorry that in this case the victims did not receive the response or the protection that they deserved.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray offered a similar public apology to the gymnasts at the hearing where they appeared last month, saying: “I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday that Monaco had shown “profound disrespect” for the victims by declining to testify at that earlier hearing, despite being invited to appear.
“I mean no disrespect, senator,” Monaco replied.
“You’re about three weeks too late, by my account,” said Cornyn.
The key conduct at issue in the Nassar case occurred well within the federal statute of limitations for prosecuting those involved.
Supervisory Special Agent Michael Langeman, who was fired a month ago, allegedly lied to the inspector general’s office in interviews in 2020 and 2021, according to Horowitz’s report.
Langeman was questioned at length about why he did not pursue a case against Nassar, whether he had in fact referred the matter to a different FBI office, and why he wrote a report of an interview with a key victim more than a year after the interview took place.
The inspector general report did not identify Langeman by name but found that he lied to investigators “in an effort to minimize or excuse his errors.”
Horowitz also found that while the FBI was dealing with the Nassar allegations in late 2015, the head of the FBI’s Indianapolis office, W. Jay Abbott, talked to Stephen Penny, then president of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, about getting Abbott a job with the Olympic Committee.
The inspector general said Abbott applied for the job but did not get it, and when confronted about it in 2019, falsely claimed to the inspector general that he had not sought the job. Penny resigned under pressure from his job with USA Gymnastics in 2017 and was charged in 2018 with evidence-tampering in the sex abuse case. Abbott retired from the FBI.
John Manly, a lawyer representing many of the athletes and women who have come forward to say they were abused by Nassar, called Monaco’s announcement “long overdue and necessary to give survivors justice and closure.”
Manly said the gymnasts are grateful for a new review based on additional evidence and hope it will lead to prosecutions of individuals who worked at the time at the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and the FBI. “The victims have waited years for justice,” he said. “It is time.”
One of the FBI’s chief failures in the Nassar case was not alerting state authorities to the possibility that he might be committing sex crimes against children—crimes that state prosecutors could, and eventually did, charge him with.
In response to that criticism, Monaco last week urged prosecutors and agents to coordinate more closely with state and local law enforcement about potential crimes that may fall outside federal law but may still be worth pursuing.
“Even in those instances where the federal government cannot bring its own criminal charges, our obligation to protect crime victims and ensure public safety does not end,” Monaco wrote in the memo. “Instead, proper coordination with state, local, or tribal law enforcement partners may become more important, particularly in the face of apparent, ongoing criminal behavior that puts victims at risk.”