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The FBI opens settlement talks with survivors of sexual assault by former US gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, according to legal and congressional sources.
News of the outreach came as senior Justice Department officials traveled to Capitol Hill on Thursday to explain their reasons for refusing to prosecute two former FBI agents for their failures in the Nassar case.
In a rare move, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite met with key senators and their staffers to explain the Justice Department’s legal reasoning — and to make suggestions for new legislative proposals.
The Justice Department’s inspector general described Nassar’s failed FBI investigation last year in a damning report. IG Michael Horowitz said that while the FBI failed to act, Nassar still abused dozens of girls and women.
Watchdogs concluded that the agency “did not respond with the utmost seriousness and urgency to the Nassar allegations it deserved and needed, made numerous and fundamental mistakes when responding, and violated multiple FBI policies.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized to the hundreds of survivors in Congressional testimony in September 2021.
“I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster in 2015 and failed,” Wray said. “And that is unforgivable. It should never have happened and we are doing everything we can to make sure it never happens again.”
Lawyers for many of those survivors — including world-class gymnasts Simone Byles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman — filed paperwork this year indicating they would sue the agency.
Maroney told lawmakers that the FBI agent who eventually contacted her to hear her story failed to properly document her report and make false claims about it.
“My fellow survivors and I have been betrayed by every institution that should protect us — the U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Gymnastics, the FBI and now the Department of Justice,” she said in a written statement this year.
Under a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act, claimants must file administrative complaints with the U.S. government. If the federal government doesn’t act after six months, those plaintiffs can file a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages.
State officials in Michigan eventually brought Nassar to court. He is in fact serving a life sentence on charges of sexual abuse and child pornography, among other things.
Jamie White, a lawyer representing a group of survivors, said he heard from the government on Wednesday that he would start talks to resolve the legal claims.
“My clients have been through extreme trauma and were relieved to see that the government is open to dialogue,” White told NPR. “While dialogue is a positive step in the right direction, we remain willing to hold parties accountable through an adversarial process if necessary.”
sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, attended Thursday’s meeting with DOJ officials. Grassley said in a written statement that he was not satisfied.
“The FBI again refused to provide underlying information to support their assumption that a jury would not convict their agents for messing up the Nassar investigation and then try to cover their tracks,” Grassley said. “It’s the latest example of the Just Us Department trying to avoid being held accountable for its failures.”
Grassley said that both Assistant Attorney General Polite and FBI Director Wray will testify before the Judiciary Committee next week and that he expected them to be questioned again about the case.