U.S. House Oversight Committee to investigate MSU, other institutions tied to Nassar

Feb 9, 2018
In The News

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has opened an investigation Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and other institutions tied to ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar.

In a letter to Michigan State University interim president John Engler, committee chair Trey Gowdy and other members of the committee asked university officials to hand over any and all documents related to the school's handling of Nassar since 1996, as well as documents regarding sexual assault complaints unrelated to Nassar since 2008. 

The committee also wants any training materials, policies, procedures or instructions regarding providing medical treatment to athletes on MSU's gymnastics team, as well as any policies related to reporting and addressing sexual assault. The deadline for submitting the requested materials is Feb. 22, 2018. 

"MSU hired Nassar as its gymnastics team doctor and assistant professor in 1997. Despite sexual assault allegations during Nassar's tenure, MSU did not fire him until September 20, 2016," the letter, signed by Gowdy, R-South Carolina, and other members of the committee reads. "MSU has a significant responsibility to its student-athletes, yet MSU's gymnastics team doctor sexually abused young gymnasts unfettered for years."

Other institutions involved in the investigation include the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics Club, Karolyi Ranch and Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, a gymnastics facility in Dimondale, Mich. where Nassar was given near-exclusive access to young gymnasts.

Letters sent to those institutions request similar information regarding policies, procedures and information regarding any complaints about Nassar's procedures and how officials responded, as well as any steps that have been taken to address the issue since abuse allegations came to light. 

The committee's intent to investigate institutions with Nassar ties comes amid an investigation by Michigan Attorney General and calls for additional oversight by state lawmakers following Nassar's sentencing hearings in Ingham and Eaton counties. 

Nassar, once an acclaimed sports medicine doctor with deep ties in the gymnastics community, was sentenced to 40-175 years in Ingham County and 40-125 years in Eaton County on several counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing women under the guise of medical treatment, and heard from more than 200 women in both courtrooms who described in detail the abuse he subjected them to and the suffering he caused. 

Many victims described their experiences trying to report Nassar to a trusted coach or trainer, to police, to MSU officials or to their parents.

The earliest known instance of an attempt to report was from Larissa Boyce, who said she and another gymnast told then-MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in 1997 that she was deeply uncomfortable with Nassar's intravaginal procedures. That report never made it further than Klages, she said. 

Another victim, Amanda Thomashow, filed a federal Title IX complaint through the university in 2014 after he sexually abused her during an appointment. After an investigation that Thomashow called "brief and sloppy," Nassar was allowed to return to work to see patients until he was let go in 2016, during which time several more women said they were abused by Nassar. 

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., was one of the House committee members who called for an investigation. In a statement, she said Congress owes it to each of Nassar's victims and any other athlete involved in those programs to conduct an independent investigation. 

"While Mr. Nassar has been brought to justice, albeit belatedly, we must investigate the systemic failure that enabled him to commit these horrific abuses over so many years, and ensure that necessary reforms are made to protect all students, athletes, and patients in the future," she said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, had previously called for an investigation into USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Bishop represents the 8th Congressional District, home to MSU and where Nassar abused the vast majority of his victims. 

In an interview with MLive, Bishop said it's appalling to him that allegations against Nassar "on several occasions were not even investigated or reported," particularly in an entity created by Congress.

Bishop, who used to work on domestic violence cases as a prosecutor, said he's ready to do anything he can to make sure Nassar's victims have a voice. 

"I feel very prosecutorial right now - justice has to be served here," he said. 

On the Senate side, a group of U.S. Senators have rolled out a bipartisan resolution to kick start an investigation into the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics over its handling of Nassar. 

The resolution, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., calls for a select committee to investigate USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic committee that would have party and gender parity - it would consist of four Democrats and four Republicans, with an equal number of men and women represented. 

The committee would be tasked with determining the extent to which U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics were "complicit in the criminal or negligent behavior of their employees relative to sexual abuse" as well as identifying and recommending solutions to the failures that allowed the abuse to continue for decades, according to a statement from Shaheen's office.