Decision to not prosecute FBI agents in Nassar case under review

Farnoush Amiri
Associated Press

Washington — The Justice Department said Tuesday it is reviewing an earlier decision to decline prosecution against two former FBI agents embroiled in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse cases after new information has emerged.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the newly confirmed assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division will be taking a second look at the FBI’s alleged failure to promptly address complaints reported in 2015 against Nassar, who was a Michigan State University sports doctor.

“I am deeply sorry that in this case, the victims did not receive the response or the protection that they deserved,” Monaco said as she testified during a hearing on the renewal of the Violence Against Women’s Act.

She added, “I do want the committee and, frankly, I want the survivors to understand how exceptionally seriously we take this issue and believe that this deserves a thorough and full review."

FILE - In this March 9, 2021, file photo, Lisa Monaco speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine her nomination to be Deputy Attorney General, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Monaco did not elaborate on what the new information was, saying she was "constrained in what more I can say about it."

"Is there any sense of urgency or timetable to this new criminal review about the wrongdoing by the FBI agents?" asked Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. 

"We take exceptionally seriously our duty to protect victims," Monaco replied. "And, yes, I think you can be assured there is a sense of urgency and gravity with the work that needs to be done."

Her testimony comes just weeks after several former USA Olympic gymnasts appeared before the same panel and provided forceful testimony that federal law enforcement and gymnastics officials turned a “blind eye” to the USA Gymnastics team doctor's sexual abuse of the gymnasts and hundreds of other women.

Last month's hearing was part of a congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable after multiple missteps in investigating the case, including delays that allowed the now-imprisoned Nassar to abuse dozens of other young girls and women.

An internal investigation by the Justice Department released in July said the FBI made fundamental errors in the probe and did not treat the case with the “utmost seriousness” after USA Gymnastics first reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis in 2015. The FBI has acknowledged its own conduct was inexcusable.

In the hearing last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray blasted his own agents who failed to appropriately respond to the complaints and made a promise to the victims that he was committed to “make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here,” and that it never happens again.

Wray said the agency had recently fired one of the two agents in Indianapolis criticized in the IG report, Michael Langeman. But he said the agency was limited in its ability go after the other agent, W. Jay Abbott, as he retired from the agency in 2018 amid the internal investigation.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute Abbott and Langeman in September 2020, according to the IG report.

Monaco commended the female athletes who spoke out about Nassar, including star gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman who testified about their abuse and the FBI's failures at last month's Senate hearing.

"As the deputy attorney general, as a lawyer, as a former FBI official and as a woman, I was outraged by the Inspector General's findings, and I was horrified at (their) experiences," Monaco said.

In response, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, demanded to know why Monaco didn't show up at last month's hearing, as she was invited to explain her department's decision not to prosecute the agents identified in the IG report.

“I'm actually a little surprised to see you given the fact that you refused to attend the hearing where the heinous conduct of Larry Nassar was exposed again and where even the FBI Director personally apologized," Cornyn said. 

He noted that Raisman said the DOJ's not sending anyone to the hearing sent the message that child abuse "doesn't matter." 

"Don't you think you showed them disrespect by refusal to show?" Cornyn said.

"I mean no disrespect, Senator," Monaco said. "And I am here to answer whatever questions the committee has with regard to the steps the department is taking to ensure that failures — the inexcusable failures, fundamental failures — do not happen again."

"Well, you're about three weeks too late by my count," Cornyn retorted.

He asked Monaco about the statute of limitations for lying to the FBI and other alleged criminal activities described by the Inspector General in his report, which Monaco replied was five years. Cornyn noted most of the initial missteps by the FBI occurred in 2015.

"Here we are, six years later, and the Department of Justice has done nothing," Cornyn said. "You have the audacity to tell us that you are experiencing a sense of urgency and gravity over this. It is simply not credible.”

Monaco told the panel that she had discussed with the FBI Director Wray the "full scope" of changes he's instituting.

She also said she directed additional measures inside the Department of Justice to ensure that, when there is an ongoing threat of violence or abuse and especially when that involves vulnerable victims, that prosecutors know they have a duty to coordinate with local law enforcement partners to address it.

Hundreds of girls and women have said Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Nassar pleaded guilty in federal court to child pornography crimes before pleading guilty in state court to sexually assaulting female gymnasts, and was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison.

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Burke contributed.

mburke@detroitnews.com