Senators want special probe into Nassar scandal

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Less than three days from the start of the Winter Olympics, senators introduced a bipartisan resolution Wednesday for creating a special Senate committee charged solely with investigating the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics over the sexual abuse scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar.

The lead sponsors of the resolution requested that Senate leadership set the special committee last month, asking that it be established before the games begin and that it carry an equal number of male and female members.

“We think it’s really important to have the focus just on this issue for that committee,” said New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the measure.

The resolution charges the panel with determining the extent to which the sports organizations were “complicit” in the criminal or negligent behavior of their employees relating to sexual abuse. The committee also would recommend solutions and any legislation needed to address the “systemic failures” at the USOC and USA Gymnastics that allowed for Nassar’s abuse to continue for decades.

The panel would have subpoena power, and its report would be due no later than the close of the next session of Congress in 2020.

“The reprehensible actions of this so-called doctor have been exposed, yet there are still so many questions that remain,” said Sen. Jodi Ernst, an Iowa Republican and the other lead sponsor.

“Why was this disgusting man allowed near our young female athletes when there were reports that the USOC leadership knew about the sexual abuse allegations?”

Ernst was referring to reports that U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun was informed by the head of USA Gymnastics in July 2015 of abuse reports against Nassar.

Ernst and Shaneen, along with other senators, spoke at a Wednesday news conference at the U.S. Capitol. Both have called on Blackmun to step down.

Nassar on Monday had his third and final sentencing for his sex crimes committed over more than two decades while he was a sports doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.

Nassar was sentenced in recent weeks to 40 to 175 years in prison in Ingham County and another 40 to 125 years in prison in Eaton County. He is already serving a 60-year federal sentence for possessing child pornography.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said she met Saturday with a group of Nassar victims and came away with a “sense of awe at their bravery and their strength, in spite of everything that’s happened.”

“When I think about Larry Nassar and what he did continually, it is shocking to me that an instiutiton that I love and respect – and the people in it – let the girls down and young women down, over and over,” said Stabenow, an alumna of MSU.

Stabenow highlighted the father of three women abused by Nassar who lunged at Nassar in a Michigan courtroom Friday but was restrained by security personnel. The father, Randall Margraves, had asked the judge for a few minutes alone with Nassar.

“As a mom and a grandmother who now has a young granddaughter in sports, I thought, ‘You know, I would have liked five minutes with this guy,’” Stabenow said.

“I only wished that the security had been a little slower in restraining him, till he could have gotten a couple punches out. Because all of us understand how destructive and outrageous this perversion and this man’s actions have been.”

The Senate resolution has 16 co-sponsors and the endorsement of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Ernst and Shaheen indicated they have discussed the special committee with party leaders.

“I haven’t heard any hesitation,” Shaheen said. “My assumption is that because we’re dealing with a lot of different issues right now, that that has been the hold up. And as soon as we get passed some of these other negotiations around government funding, I believe we can get an answer as quickly as possible.”

Ernst acknowledged jurisdictional overlap with other panels that lawmakers will have to work through.

“We are hoping that we can elevate this to significant status, so it gets done in short order,” she said.

Congress, which chartered the USOC, last week sent to President Donald Trump legislation to require sports governing organizations that train young amateur athletes to report suspected cases of abuse to authorities within 24 hours.

The bill also requires the governing bodies have a mechanism to allow a complainant to “easily report an incident of sexual abuse.”

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