FBI mishandled Larry Nassar-USA Gymnastics abuse case, watchdog says

Larry Nassar
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WASHINGTON — The FBI made “fundamental” errors in investigating sexual abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar and did not treat the case with the “utmost seriousness,” the Justice Department’s inspector general said Wednesday. More athletes said they were molested before the the FBI swung into action.

The FBI acknowledged conduct that was “inexcusable and a discredit” to America’s premier law enforcement agency and all.

The long-awaited watchdog report raises troubling questions about how the department and the FBI handled the case and it highlights major missteps at the FBI between the time the allegations were first reported and Nassar’s arrest.

The inspector general’s investigation was spurred by allegations that the FBI failed to promptly address complaints made in 2015 against Nassar. USA Gymnastics had conducted its own internal investigation and then the organization’s then-president, Steve Penny, reported the allegations to the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis. But it took months before the bureau opened a formal investigation.

At least 40 girls and women said they were molested over a 14-month period while the FBI was aware of other sexual abuse allegations involving Nassar. Officials at USA Gymnastics also contacted FBI officials in Los Angeles in May 2016 after eight months of inactivity from agents in Indianapolis.

The inspector general’s office found that “despite the extraordinarily serious nature” of the allegations against Nassar, FBI officials in Indianapolis did not respond with the “utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required.”

When they did respond, the report said, FBI officials made “numerous and fundamental errors” and also violated bureau policies. Among the missteps was a failure to conduct any investigative activity until more than a month after a meeting with USA Gymnastics. Agents interviewed by phone one of three athletes, but never spoke with two other gymnasts despite being told they were available to meet.

The watchdog investigation also found that when the FBI’s Indianapolis field office’s handling of the matter came under scrutiny, officials there did not take any responsibility for the missteps and gave incomplete and inaccurate information to internal FBI inquiries.

The FBI rebuked its own employees who failed to act in the case and said it “should not have happened.”

“The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the Report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization,” the agency said in a statement.

“The FBI has taken affirmative steps to ensure and has confirmed that those responsible for the misconduct and breach of trust no longer work FBI matters,” the statement said. “We will take all necessary steps to ensure that the failures of the employees outlined in the Report do not happen again.”

The inspector general interviewed an FBI supervisory special agent last September who said the original allegations reported by Penny and USA Gymnastics were “very vague” and who questioned Penny’s credibility, describing him as “kind of a snake oil salesman kind of guy.”

That special agent also told investigators that the Indianapolis field office didn’t appear to have jurisdiction to investigate because the alleged crimes did not take place in Indiana. That agent and an FBI supervisor in the office said they told Penny to contact local law enforcement — a claim contradicted by Penny and the chairman of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors.

The FBI said the supervisory special agent “violated multiple policies” and that the agency took immediate action when it learned that the agent did not properly document the sexual abuse complaints, had mishandled evidence and failed to report abuse.

The report also detailed that while the FBI was investigating the Nassar allegations, the head of the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis, W. Jay Abbott, was talking to Penny about getting a job with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. He applied for the job but didn’t get it and later retired from the FBI, the report said.

Abbott also lied to investigators from the inspector general’s office multiple times in an effort “to minimize errors” made by his office in handling the case, the report found.

Nassar was ultimately charged in 2016 with federal child pornography offenses and sexual abuse charges in Michigan.

He is now serving decades in prison after hundreds of girls and women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

The inspector general’s office said it reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed more than 60 witnesses, including several victims, their parents, prosecutors and current and former FBI employees.

The FBI’s handling of the case was strongly condemned by members of Congress, and some senators called for the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland to testify about the case.

“We are appalled by the FBI’s gross mishandling of the specific warnings its agents received about Larry Nassar’s horrific abuse years before he was finally arrested,” said Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

Nassar’s victims also strongly criticized the FBI for its poor handling of the investigation.

“The dozens of little girls abused after the FBI knew who Larry was and exactly what he was doing, could have and should have been saved,” tweeted Rachel Denhollander, one of the first women to publicly accuse Nassar of abuse.

John Manly, an attorney for over 150 of Nassar’s victims, said Abbott should be prosecuted and insisted that anyone responsible for missteps in the investigation should be held accountable.

“The OIG report released shocks the conscience,” Manly said. “These women and girls not only deserved to have their case thoroughly investigated but deserved the respect and full attention of those investigating their case.”

USA Gymnastics is still reeling from the fallout of the Nassar scandal six years after Penny first approached authorities. The sport’s national governing body has undergone a massive overhaul in leadership — current president Li Li Leung is the fourth person to hold the position since the 2016 Olympics — and safety protocols in hopes of providing better protection for athletes.

USA Gymnastics also remains in court as it continues mediation with dozens of Nassar survivors, though Leung hopes settlement can be reached by the end of the year.

“At the end of the day, what has happened is something that we are learning from and we’re using the past to inform how we go forward,” Leung told reporters last month.

The report came on the same day the 2021 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, a group that includes reigning world and Olympic champion and Nassar abuse survivor Simone Biles, flew to Tokyo for the Games.

Novak Djokovic faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in Australian Open final for Slam titles record

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic put aside some shaky play in the early going and took over his Australian Open semifinal against unseeded American Tommy Paul on Friday, winning 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to close in on a 10th championship at Melbourne Park and 22nd Grand Slam title overall.

Djokovic’s parents and brother are in town for the tournament for the first time since he claimed major trophy No. 1 there back in 2008, but his father stayed away from this match after getting caught up in a flap connected to spectators who brought banned Russian flags on site earlier in the week.

Forget about that potential distraction. Forget about the heavily taped left hamstring that was an issue last week. Forget about how Djokovic produced twice as many unforced errors, 24, as winners, 12, in the opening set. Forget that he dropped four games in a row in one stretch. As usual, Djokovic summoned what it took to extend his Australian Open winning streak to 27 matches, the longest in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

There was a pause in that string of victories a year ago, of course, when Djokovic was deported from Australia before competition began because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He still has not gotten the shots, but the strict border controls established by the country during the pandemic have been eased.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

On Sunday, No. 4 seed Djokovic will take on No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who eliminated Karen Khachanov 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to reach his first final at Melbourne Park and second at a Slam.

Whoever wins the final will rise to No. 1 in the ATP rankings. For Djokovic, that would mark a return to a spot he has occupied for more weeks than anyone; for Tsitsipas, if would mark a debut there.

“I like that number. It’s all about you. It’s singular. It’s ‘1,’” said Tsitsipas, who was 0-3 in Australian Open semifinals before Friday. “These are the moments that I’ve been working hard for.”

Djokovic has never lost a semifinal or final in Melbourne, going a perfect 19-0, and his nine triumphs there already are a men’s record. If he can add one more to go alongside his seven titles at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Open and two at the French Open, the 35-year-old from Serbia would equal Nadal for the most Grand Slam trophies earned by a man.

Djokovic is 10-2 against Tsitsipas, taking the last nine encounters in a row.

Tsitsipas’ other major final came at the 2021 French Open, when he grabbed the first two sets before blowing that big lead and losing to Djokovic in five.

Which was all related to an amusing moment this week, when Djokovic said about Tsitsipas: “He has never played a final, am I wrong?” Reminded by reporters about what happened at Roland Garros, Djokovic replied: “That’s right. Sorry, my bad.”

Asked about that exchange Friday, Tsitsipas responded with a deadpan expression and the words: “I don’t remember, either.”

Until this week, the 35th-ranked Paul never had been past the fourth round in 13 previous appearances at majors.

The 25-year-old was born in New Jersey and grew up in North Carolina, playing tennis at a club where the walls were festooned with posters of Andy Roddick — the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title, way back at the 2003 U.S. Open. That drought will continue for now, because even though Djokovic was not at his best in the opening set, he was good enough at the end of it, breaking in the last game, and never relented.

The blips for Djokovic arrived right at the outset.

The footwork was not up to his usual reach-every-ball standard. The shotmaking was subpar. The serving was so-so.

He got into a bit of a discussion with the chair umpire. He started gesturing and shouting in the direction of coach Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of this entourage.

In the first game, Djokovic flubbed an overhead, a weakness he’s never solved. He dumped a backhand into the net. He double-faulted. And just like that, three minutes in, he offered up a break point to Paul. Djokovic saved that, but then another missed backhand provided another break chance to someone playing the biggest match of his life.

Djokovic saved that, too, collected that game and would race to a 5-1 lead. Then came the lull. He got broken when serving for the set there. And again at 5-3, when Paul walloped a down-the-line forehand and Djokovic’s backhand on a 29-stroke point landed out.

Paul held for 5-all. Might he be making a match of it?

Not for much longer. Djokovic, the greatest returner or his, or maybe any, generation, broke to close that set, when Paul sent a forehand wide. Serbian flags were displayed throughout the stands and Rod Laver Arena was filled with chants of Djokovic’s two-syllable nickname, “No-le! No-le!”

The contest was never much of a contest from there on out.

Tsitsipas had a harder time strictly following the rules governing the 25-second serve clock and foot-faults than he did outplaying Khachanov for nearly three full sets, then recovered after blowing two match points late in the third.

Tsitsipas regained his footing quickly, grabbing a 3-0 lead in the fourth and closing out the win about 40 minutes after his initial opportunity.

Looking ahead to Sunday, he declared: “Couldn’t be more ready for this moment.”

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
U.S. Figure Skating
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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.

After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.

Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.

So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.

Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.

At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.

Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).

Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.

Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.

Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Thursday Pairs’ Short Program 3:30-5:45 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 6:30-9 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Rhythm Dance 7-9 p.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Women’s Short Program 9:10 p.m.-12 a.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Short Program 10 p.m.-12 a.m. USA Network | STREAM LINK
Friday Men’s Short Program 4:10-7 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Men’s Short Program 5-7 p.m. USA Network
Women’s Free Skate 7:45-11 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Women’s Free Skate 8-11 p.m. NBC
Saturday Free Dance 1:45-4:30 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Free Dance 2:30-4:30 p.m. NBC
Pairs’ Free Skate 7:30-10 p.m. Peacock | Skate Order
Pairs’ Free Skate 8-10 p.m. USA Network
Sunday Men’s Free Skate 2:30-6 p.m. Peacock
Men’s Free Skate 3-6 p.m. NBC

*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.