A day after former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny was arrested following a grand jury indictment for tampering with evidence in the investigation of Larry Nassar, the New York Times has a new report detailing how Penny behaved with the FBI as its agents looked into reports from gymnasts about the former national team doctor who sexually abused them. Penny, in the Times’s words, “sought to cultivate a close relationship with federal investigators,” and not only discussed media strategy with them, but also the possibility of a prestigious job at the U.S. Olympic Committee with one agent. From the report:
[Penny] worried about the organization’s image and sought to cultivate a close relationship with federal investigators, going so far as to ask for their recommendations on the wording of public statements about the investigation, according to emails reviewed by The New York Times. In one email to an F.B.I. employee, he wrote, “We need some cover.”
Penny, who resigned in March 2017, appears to have been in closest communication with now-retired special agent Jay Abbott, who was in charge of the FBI’s office in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics is based. In at least one email obtained by the Times, Penny addressed him as “Jay,” and throughout the summer of 2015 asked him multiple times for recommendations on press releases and advice on how to deal with Larry Nassar.
When asked if Penny had offered a job to Abbott, Penny’s lawyer gave a weak rebuttal. She said to the Times that Penny told Abbott he “might be interested” in the open position of head of security at the USOC, and he did not believe it was a conflict of interest because he did not actually have the ability to hire Abbott.
These revelations are particularly notable as the U.S. Department of Justice continues its probe into the FBI’s mismanagement of the allegations against Nassar. USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015, six weeks after Maggie Nichols reported her abuse. It took nine months after that report for the FBI to actually open a formal investigation into Nassar. Nassar continued to be allowed to work even through the investigation, and until the Indianapolis Star revealed his abuse in September 2016, he reportedly molested dozens more women.
“There is a duty to warn those who might be harmed in the future,” Abbott said to the New York Times earlier this year. “But everyone is still trying to ascertain whether a crime has been committed. And everybody has rights here.” He also told the newspaper: “There was a vigorous debate going on about whether this was a legitimate medical procedure.” A similar excuse was used by a Michigan police department in 2004 to dismiss a report of sexual abuse by Nassar.
Even though Nassar is in prison, there’s still a long road to go in figuring out just how exactly he got away with his abuse for so long. One of those related questions is, How did the FBI fuck up so badly? The Times report, which you can read in full here, might hold one of the pieces to that answer.