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Sen. Blumenthal Calls For Accountability In FBI's Mishandled Nassar Investigation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The FBI, quote, "mishandled allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar." That is the key finding from an investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Justice. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut led the charge on Capitol Hill in 2019 to better understand how authorities handled the case of Larry Nassar. Senator Blumenthal joins us now. Welcome.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you so much for having me. Good to be with you.

CHANG: Good to have you with us. Now, you called this IG report a, quote, "gut punch," and you have asked for Senate hearings on it. Can you just tell us what in this report struck you the most?

BLUMENTHAL: We are going to have Senate hearings. Chairman Durbin, at my request, announced today that we will have those hearings very shortly, calling both Director Wray and possibly the attorney general of the United States to appear before the Senate because as struck so many of us, the report revealed very significantly misconduct by at least two FBI agents in the Indianapolis field office who knew of Larry Nassar's abuse, failed to act and made false and misleading statements in documenting the case. And what really struck me is how that gross mishandling of the reports of Nassar's abuse led to more athletes suffering unimaginable pain, severe damage and lasting scars.

CHANG: In addition to those false statements that were cited in this IG report, we should also note that USA Gymnastics reported allegations to the Indianapolis field office in 2015 and then to the Los Angeles field office in 2016. There was very little follow-up done in the months after that, despite the gravity of the allegations. What concerns do you have about the state of the FBI in general if basic protocol wasn't followed here?

BLUMENTHAL: If basic protocols weren't followed here, there may be other cases involving similar kinds of reports of abuse of women and girls, whether it's in athletics or elsewhere. And the FBI ought to be looking in the mirror, in effect, doing a self-evaluation if not internal investigation about what can be done to prevent what happened in the Indianapolis field office from happening elsewhere. And you're absolutely right. There was virtually no follow-up, no investigation, no documentation of the reports. And in fact, the after-the-fact attempt to document it, which itself was a false statement, should be investigated and potentially lead to discipline.

CHANG: And the report also states that there was no attempt to reach out to state or local authorities, despite some concern that a federal case might not be able to be brought. Let me ask you this. I mean, how could so many federal employees in different cities across different offices drop the ball on this? Like, what do you think is mainly to blame? Was this sheer incompetence? Was it apathy or just cracks in the system? What do you think?

BLUMENTHAL: You know, you've just asked the question that continues to bedevil me and perplex and frankly outrage me. What was the motive? There is evidence that the special agent in charge of the Indianapolis office was, in fact, engaged in some kind of potential conflict of interest with the officials of USA Gymnastics.

CHANG: You're speaking of Jay Abbott, who appeared to be trying to get a job with the Olympics while all of this was going on, at least according to the IG report.

BLUMENTHAL: That's absolutely right. There may have been a conflict of interest, so part of what we want to do is, in fact, get to the bottom of what the cause was here, what the motivations may have been, whether it was incompetence or conflict of interest or something even worse.

CHANG: Ultimately - and I guess I'm thinking about these athletes and what they have already gone through. And I'm wondering, what kind of accountability are you hoping to see? Like, what reforms do you want to see happen at the FBI level that can help survivors of sexual assault and sexual abuse?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm a former prosecutor. I was United States attorney, chief federal prosecutor for Connecticut for four and a half years. I was attorney general of my state, Connecticut, for 20 years. And so I'm thinking like a prosecutor, why have no criminal charges been brought here? So my first question is, will there be a measure of accountability through criminal prosecution? And if not through the criminal process, what kind of discipline will be accorded? What kind of public accountability will there be? Nothing can fully erase the unimaginable, unspeakable pain of these young athletes and the scars they bear, the continued wounds that afflict them from this experience. We know that likely, some of them could have been spared that pain if the FBI had acted earlier.

And they want accountability. They deserve it. And I have spoken with them, many of them at length about their courage and their strength in coming forward and testifying and speaking their truth to the power of Congress, to the power of other authorities. And they really deserve to be recognized, vindicated and lifted up. But also, they deserve accountability.

CHANG: Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut, thank you very much for your time today.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.