Maggie Nichols
Maggie Nichols, a former standout OU gymnast, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, about how the FBI handled its investigation into now-convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar. (Robert Viamontes / Gaylord News)

WASHINGTON — Former University of Oklahoma gymnast Maggie Nichols told a key U.S. Senate panel Wednesday that she was directed not to say anything that could compromise an FBI investigation into sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, then the national gymnastics team’s doctor.

“We now know there was no real FBI investigation occurring,” Nichols told a hushed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “While my complaints languished with the FBI, Larry Nassar continued to abuse women and girls.“

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Along with former Olympic stars Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, Nichols testified Wednesday about the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Nassar.

Not only did the FBI fail to conduct a thorough investigation, Nichols said, they also knew the USA Gymnastics organization and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee concocted a false narrative that allowed Nassar to retire with his reputation intact and return to Michigan State University.

Just days before the Senate hearing, the FBI fired one of the agents who had worked on the case against Nassar, who is now in prison after being convicted on state counts of molesting gymnasts under the guise of physical examinations.

DOJ report: FBI mishandled investigation

Wednesday’s hearing also came two months after the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report saying the FBI had mishandled the case.

According to the report, FBI agents failed to document evidence and report it to proper authorities.

The special agent in charge was pursuing a position as the new director of security for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which the former USA Gymnastics president had created. The investigation’s lead FBI agents also lied to Office of Inspector General investigators about what happened.

“This conduct by these FBI agents, including the special agent in-charge, who are held in high regard and expected to protect the public, is unacceptable, disgusting and shameful,” Nichols said.

A native of Minnesota, Nichols said she started gymnastics when she was 3. By the time she was 14, she had made the national team.

However, Nichols, a two-time collegiate national champion, said her Olympic dreams came to an end in the summer of 2015 when she and her coach told USA Gymnastics leadership about Nassar’s abuse.

“I was named as Gymnast 2 in the Office of Inspector General’s report and previously identified as Athlete A by USA Gymnastics,” Nichols told senators. “I want everyone to know that this did not happen to Gymnast 2 or to Athlete A. It happened to me, Maggie Nichols.

Nichols said she reported her abuse to USA Gymnastics more than six years ago.

“Still, my family and I have received few answers, and have even more questions, about how this was allowed to occur and why dozens of other little girls and women at Michigan State had to be abused after I reported,” she said.

Nichols said she sacrificed her childhood for the chance to compete for the United States but was betrayed by USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the FBI when she reported her abuse.

Following the victim’s testimonies, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), thanked Nichols for sharing her story in front of the Senate committee as a fellow Minnesotan.

Klobucher also told the victims that, as a former prosecutor, she understands how difficult it is to testify in front of a room full of strangers and that testifying in front of the Senate is part of their healing and the healing of children they will never meet.

“More must be done, more oversight, more accountability. By coming forward today, you are going to make that difference so we can make sure on your behalf that this never happens again,” Klobuchar said. “Thank you, Simone, McKayla, Maggie, and Aly, for representing the women and girls of USA Gymnastics so well on the world stage, but most importantly, so well today. Thank you.”

FBI director ‘deeply and profoundly sorry’

During his appearance before the committee, FBI director Christopher Wray apologized for the bureau’s failure to investigate sexual abuse charges against Nassar adequately and said the FBI has made “major reforms” since the inspector general’s report was released.

“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you. I’m sorry for what you and your families have been through. I’m sorry so many people let you down over and over again,” Wray said in his opening statement. “And I’m especially sorry there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”

The White House praised the Olympic gymnasts’ fortitude for testifying before Congress about sexual abuse and the lack of government investigators to aid them swiftly.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the victims’ testimony on Nassar’s abuse as “incredibly powerful.”

“All of these women came forward and spoke about the abuse of a monstrous human being that they lived through,” Psaki said. “They’re playing a role in preventing this from ever happening again.”

She said the Justice Department was working to implement the inspector general’s recommendations to avoid mistakes in future investigations.

“To date, no one from the FBI, the USOPC or USAG has faced federal charges, other than Larry Nassar,” Nichols said. “For many hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar, this hearing is one of our last opportunities to get justice. We ask that you do what is in your power to ensure those that engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable under the law.”

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice declined an invitation to testify before the Senate committee, senators said.