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As the political world anticipates an internal Justice Department review of misconduct by James Comey’s FBI related to the Trump campaign probe, hundreds of American parents await another report: Why Comey’s FBI delayed an investigation into one of the country’s most notorious child sex abusers, former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. The Michigan State University osteopathic physician now is serving a 100-year minimum prison sentence for numerous crimes, including sexual assault of minors, sexual assault, and possession of child pornography.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department’s inspector general is looking into how the FBI handled the initial sexual abuse allegations made against Nassar in 2015 and 2016.
“The gymnasts’ complaints languished for at least nine months before an FBI office opened a formal investigation,” the Journal reported. “In their probe of the bureau’s handling of the matter, Justice Department investigators have conducted interviews with several people, including athletes and gymnastics officials. The investigation could lead to disciplinary action and criminal charges.”
Lawmakers also have questions. Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray with questions related to the agency’s handling of the case in 2015 and 2016. “We have met several gymnasts who expressed concern about FBI delays in responding to their allegations against Nassar,” they wrote in July. “Our staffs have also reached out to the FBI for information related to these requests, but were not provided any information.”
No Action Until It Was Too Late
The Nassar case was a shameful display of failure at every level. It‘s earning newfound attention due to a documentary now available on HBO—”At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal.” The documentary tells the girls’ shocking story. (It airs again Tuesday. Warning: It’s not easy to watch.) While coaches, parents, USA Gymnastics executives and Michigan State University officials turned a blind eye to Nassar’s deviancy, hundreds of the world’s most talented female athletes were physically tormented for years as the doctor traveled with them across the country and around the world.
And the powerful agency assigned with protecting the most vulnerable from the most predatory—the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by the preening, moralistic James Comey—took no action until it was too late.
In 2015 and 2016, as Comey’s FBI connived to downplay the Clinton email investigation and concocted the Trump-Russia election collusion scheme, Nassar’s victims continued to be sexually abused even after the FBI had been warned of his behavior.
A February 2018 analysis by the New York Times identified “at least 40 girls and women who say that Dr. Nassar molested them between July 2015, when he first fell under F.B.I. scrutiny, and September 2016,” when the Indy Star reported on lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims.
Throughout 2016, while Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page was under intense surveillance by Comey’s FBI, Dr. Larry Nassar was not.
In fact, Comey’s FBI didn’t arrest Nassar until December 2016, after Michigan law enforcement officials charged Nassar with a variety of crimes. FBI agents then found 37,000 images of child pornography, including girls as young as 6 and dating back to 2003, on Nassar’s home computers.
“He consumed child pornography on a massive scale,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said after Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison. “Insatiable hunger of that nature simply encourages those who produce such images to continue to sexually exploit children. Compounding his danger to the public, Nassar was an insidious hands-on child predator in his own right.”
Real Evidence Ignored
If only the accusations against Nassar had been included in some kind of dossier produced by powerful political interests, then maybe Comey’s FBI would have taken immediate notice.
Larry Nassar was not some random creep sexually molesting girls in a trailer park. Nassar was employed by a Big 10 public university; he worked for an elite sports organization. In addition to traveling between Michigan State and the Texas ranch of Bela Karolyi, the famous gymnastics coach who hosted intense training camps for elite gymnasts each month, Nassar also attended four Olympic games with the team.
His decades-long crime spree that crossed state and international boundaries should not have gone unnoticed by federal law enforcement officials. Comey’s FBI should have been alerted that something was up even before girls started coming forward, given that there was already an internal investigation by Michigan State in 2014 into accusations of assault, or when Nassar suddenly retired as the team doctor in September 2015 as more allegations began to surface.
USA Gymnastics brass first contacted the Indianapolis field office of the FBI in July 2015. FBI agents were given the contact information of some of the sport’s brightest stars—including Olympians Ali Raisman and McKayla Maroney—who had been assaulted by Nassar.
At the time, the organization also turned over videos produced by Nassar that showed his grotesque intravaginal “technique” to alleviate pain from any injury, including a twisted ankle or pulled hamstring. The videos, according to New York Times reporters who viewed them, “show [Nassar] kneading the legs of girls before his ungloved hands begin to work under a towel, between the girls’ legs.” Nassar then explains how he does “the hand-shaky thing, demonstrating how he shakes his hand vigorously when it is deep between a girl’s legs.” Some of the therapy sessions, according to the girls, would last hours.
But that wasn’t enough to prompt an FBI investigation into Nassar. The allegations were bounced to the FBI’s Detroit office, which also took no action.
Perhaps if Nassar had discussed Russian sanctions instead of molesting hundreds of young athletes while pretending to be a serious doctor, Comey’s FBI immediately would have sent FBI agents to interrogate him.
Finally, the Los Angeles FBI office opened a formal investigation in the spring of 2016, around the same time Comey and Andrew McCabe, his deputy, were deeply immersed in how they could exonerate Hillary Clinton and target the Trump presidential campaign.
Then, 17 months after two female Olympic athletes notified James Comey’s FBI about allegations of sexual assault—and 10 months after James Comey’s FBI opened up an official case on the matter—the feds arrested Nassar at his Michigan home in December 2016.
Perhaps if Nassar had been a quirky political consultant working for a candidate Comey didn’t like, Comey’s FBI would have acted faster.
The human wreckage that Larry Nassar caused cannot be underestimated. The testimonials from the victims, their families, coaches and others either complicit or caught up in this tragedy are heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time. (The father of one victim, who testified that Nassar’s abuse began when she was six, committed suicide for not believing his daughter’s claims at the time.) USA Gymnastics is bankrupt, its former president now faces felony charges for witness tampering, and three Michigan State University officials, including its former president, are in legal trouble connected to the Nassar case.
Yet James Comey continues to insist he is a victim while preening about his integrity, his morality, and his duty. The Nassar fiasco didn’t even merit a mention in his self-indulgent book.
For all the misconduct and malfeasance that happened under Comey’s watch, his agency’s gross negligence (not extreme carelessness) on the Nassar case could be his most damning legacy.
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Photo Credit: Carsten Koall/Getty Images