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Larry Nassar is in jail but what about the others?

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Six years. That’s how long Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and their fellow gymnasts have been waiting for an independent criminal investigation into the cover-up of their sexual molestations by Olympic doctor Larry Nassar.

Former US gymnasts depart on Wednesday after testifying during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector-General's report on the FBI's handling of the Larry Nassar investigation (Photograph by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Six years. For all that time, McKayla Maroney has had to testify all over again to Larry Nassar’s ungloved hands violating her at the age of 15 in hopes of getting full accountability, most recently on Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, her voice sometimes accompanied by tears, sometimes vibrating with outrage.

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. She began her second stint at the Post in 2000 after spending the previous decade working as a book author and as a magazine writer

It is time for a special prosecutor to probe this reeking, bottom-drawered, law enforcement cover-up.

FBI Director Christopher Wray dithered on phonily on Wednesday about improving “policies and procedures”. But it wasn’t the policies or procedures that failed; it was the people in charge. They failed to do their fundamental duty, perhaps intentionally. And now Attorney-General Merrick Garland is failing to do his, at peril of joining the list of greying government functionaries who apparently think an agency reputation is more important than a girl’s body.

After six years of asking, where are the federal charges against those who knew about Nassar and did nothing? Whose deliberate inaction let him victimise more women even after she told everyone about him?

Instead, there have been mysterious refusals to pursue obvious crimes. A negligent if not corrupt FBI agent was allowed to retire with a pension despite lying to the inspector-general. One thing came clear during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing into the FBI’s “dereliction of duty” on Wednesday:

“A whole lot of people here should be prosecuted besides Nassar,” Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont, said.

The lack of prosecution always has been baffling, and it remains so. There was “inaction, incompetence and worse”, as Tom Cotton, from Arkansas, said. Why has no one but Nassar faced full legal accountability? Wray and Inspector-General Michael Horowitz could not answer that most basic question. You know who else couldn’t answer it? Garland, because he refused to attend the hearing.

“Maybe it’s the Department of Justice that doesn’t take this seriously,” Richard Blumenthal, from Connecticut, said.

To date, there have been exactly two dutifully zealous law enforcement efforts on behalf of the gymnasts — and both of them were at the local level. If not for a Michigan State University campus police detective named Andrea Munford, Nassar would still be molesting young women. She was the one who built the case that got him arrested in December 2016 and sent to prison on the testimony of hundreds of victims, as well as 37,000 items of child pornography found on his hard drives.

This was fully a year after those FBI studs in the Indianapolis office, agents Jay Abbott and Michael Langeman, utterly ignored Maroney’s graphic accounts of Nassar penetrating her, and lying on her while she was naked in hotel rooms in 2011. After she related her story to the FBI, she testified at Wednesday’s hearing, a male agent was silent for a minute and then said to her, “Is that all?”

Abbott and Langeman never officially opened an investigation, never even wrote a report, and then later muddied the investigative waters with lies. What Abbott did do was troll for jobs with the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, aided by then USAG president Stephen Penny over beers, according to a July report by Horowitz. Their conduct led to at least 70 more victims, maybe more than 100. What should the legal penalty be for that?

The only other serious law enforcement effort came from the Sheriff's office in Walker County, Texas, which tried to search the Karolyi Ranch gymnastics training centre, where Nassar committed much of his abuse. According to an employee, officers were turned away at the direction of Penny, who allegedly ordered the site cleansed of records with Nassar’s name on them and had them sent to him in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics is based, before officers could return with a search warrant. A Texas Grand Jury has indicted Penny for destroying or hiding evidence; he has pleaded not guilty.

No one else seems to have laid an investigative glove on Penny. Why?

Where was the Justice Department's US Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana in all of this?

Answer: at the time, the US Attorney was a guy named Josh Minkler, who had a history of working closely with Jay Abbott’s office on cases. Know what Minkler has been doing as recently as August? He has been Jay Abbott's personal attorney.

Let that sink in. The Justice Department bafflingly has refused to bring charges against Abbott, who retired amid the internal investigation, and Langeman, who recently was fired. And the man who was the top Justice Department official in Indianapolis during their corrupt inaction in the Nassar case is now Abbott’s lawyer.

Special prosecutor, please.

“The record established that Steve Penny, FBI agent [Jay] Abbott and their subordinates worked to conceal Nassar’s crimes,” Raisman seethed in her testimony. “ ... They diminished the significance of my abuse and made me feel that my criminal case was not worth pursuing. The special agent in charge met Steve Penny for beers, to discuss job opportunities in the Olympic movement.”

By the end of the day’s testimony, senators were fairly screaming with bipartisan anger over the excruciating testimony. At this point, Nassar’s crime is not the sole outrage. That these young women have had to spend six years trying to “face down an entire system”, as Cotton said, to get basic accountability from Olympic and law enforcement officials, has become a concomitant and compounding outrage.

What these women need and deserve, so that they can finally move on with their lives, is the prompt appointment of a cool independent inquisitor who can demand — and get — the answers about who and what drove the cover-up. As Jon Ossoff, from Georgia, said to Raisman and her team-mates in the most pointed remark of the day, “The burden shouldn’t be on you to see that there isn’t impunity.”

No, it shouldn’t. The burden should be on Garland. And if he refuses to take it up, you will know who else has been having beers with the boys.

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. She began her second stint at the Post in 2000 after spending the previous decade working as a book author and as a magazine writer

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Published September 17, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated September 16, 2021 at 6:25 pm)

Larry Nassar is in jail but what about the others?

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