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House Oversight panel opens Nassar probe

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A top U.S. House committee said Thursday it is opening an investigation into sexual assault in gymnastics in response to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s sex crimes at Michigan State University, as well as other sites associated with the U.S. Olympics women’s gymnastics program.

Leaders of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a letter to MSU Interim President John Engler on Thursday, questioned why the university failed to fire Nassar until 2016 and inquired about the actions MSU plans to take “in response to this pervasive sexual abuse within the sport.”

They want the university to turn over a raft of documents by Feb. 22.

“The Committee is investigating how Nassar’s crimes were able to occur, let alone persist, for over two decades. Michigan State University is at the center of many of these failures,” wrote Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, Gowdy, along with ranking Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and three other panel members.

The committee is seeking all documents and communications relating to any and all complaints reported to MSU about Nassar, including those indicating how MSU responded to and resolved those complaints. It also wants records related to any and all other sexual assault complaints concerning individuals other than Nassar reported to MSU since 2008.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, a Rochester Republican whose district includes MSU, had urged the Oversight panel to investigate the matter and said Thursday he was glad to see it moving forward.

“I’ve been all over leadership to make sure they get this done quickly because we don’t want to wait,” Bishop said.

MSU has said it will cooperate with any and all investigations. In a Monday letter to employees, Engler urged staff not to destroy “any document, record, or electronically stored information that could reasonably be relevant to the pending inquiries or any other investigation that involves allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct.”

The Oversight panel also sent letters requesting information to the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics Inc., Twistars USA Gymnastics Club and the Karolyi Ranch.

Other committees in the U.S. House and Senate are already investigating sexual abuse in organized sports, targeting MSU, USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, among other amateur sports groups.

The investigations follow the sentencing of Nassar to separate prison terms of 40 years to 125 years, as well as 40 to 175 years for first-degree sexual misconduct charges in Ingham and Eaton counties in Michigan. More than 200 women and girls have come forward to say Nassar sexually abused them.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has requested answers from MSU’s Board of Trustees by Friday on when the university knew about allegations against Nassar, who received the complaints, how they were handled, and if there are other allegations of sexual misconduct involving other MSU faculty or staff.

Earlier this week, senators introduced a bipartisan resolution for creating a special Senate committee charged solely with investigating the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics over the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar.

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.

If established, 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.