Two U.S. senators on Friday accused former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun of lying to Congress about his response to sexual abuse complaints against former Olympic gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, and referred him to the Department of Justice for potential criminal investigation.
In written statements submitted to a Senate Commerce subcommittee investigating Nassar's abuses in June, Blackmun claimed that in 2015 - after learning that USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny planned to report Nassar to law enforcement for suspicion of sexual assault - he discussed the matter with USOC employees who had backgrounds in sexual abuse cases to determine how the USOC should respond.
"I spoke to the USOC's safe sport staff after talking to Mr. Penny. My understanding was that reporting the doctor to law enforcement was the most aggressive thing that could be done. I also understood that once it was reported, the issue should be left in the hands of law enforcement - we did not want to interfere with their investigation in any way," wrote Blackmun, who has drawn criticism, along with USA Gymnastics officials, for not contacting officials at Michigan State, where Nassar continued to assault his patients under the guise of medical care for another 14 months.
Blackmun's written remarks to the senators were incorrect, according to an independent investigation released Monday, conducted by a law firm hired by the USOC. Blackmun acknowledged to the investigators - who were unable to find any corroborating evidence he spoke to his employees in the safe sport department, which deals with sexual abuse cases - that he had been mistaken, and hadn't consulted them.
"It appears that Mr. Blackmun has made false claims and misled our Subcommittee - harming the investigation and ability to develop policy," said Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a news release announcing their referral of Blackmun to the Justice Department for potential crimes involving lying to Congress and obstructing an investigation. "Just as importantly, survivors of abuse have had to wait longer for the truth and longer for systemic changes to help prevent others from similar injury."
Blackmun, who resigned in February citing health concerns as he dealt with treatment for prostate cancer, did not return a phone message seeking comment Friday. The USOC declined to comment.
More than two years after Nassar’s arrest, and nearly a year after an extraordinary seven-day sentencing hearing for the disgraced former sports physician generated national outrage over his rampant abuse of young girls and women, including several Olympians, Friday’s development is the latest sign the legal fallout from Nassar’s crimes is far from over.
Penny, the former USA Gymnastics CEO, faces a criminal charge of evidence tampering, over allegations he had documents removed from the former national team training center in Texas relating to Nassar’s treatment of young gymnasts. Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon faces a charge of lying to enforcement in Michigan about her knowledge of a 2014 investigation into Nassar’s conduct. And now Blackmun, once one of the most respected and influential executives in Olympic sports, might face legal scrutiny.
Moran and Blumenthal's subcommittee has been investigating Nassar's abuses, and the broader issue of sex abuse in America's Olympic sports organizations, for much of 2018. A subcommittee spokesman said Friday the senators plan to release a written report summarizing their findings early next year, with the likelihood of some type of legislative recommendations. It is widely expected senators will again examine the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the federal law that governs Olympic sports organizations.
Nassar, 55, is serving an effective life sentence for federal child pornography crimes, and also has admitted to assaulting nine girls and women in Michigan, where he worked at Michigan State and treated young gymnasts throughout the state for decades. More than 350 girls and women have accused him of sexual abuse, including Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas.
An attorney with a background in sports entertainment, Blackmun took over as CEO of the USOC in 2010, when the organization's international standing was at a nadir, after a failed bid to land the 2016 Summer Games for Chicago.
In eight years as CEO, Blackmun received generally high marks for smoothing over relations with other Olympic organizations, and winning Los Angeles the 2028 Summer Games, but he drew persistent criticism from sex abuse victims and their advocates for his hands-off approach to the issue, despite a series of abuse scandals in sports including swimming, speedskating and gymnastics dating to the 1990s.
In his interview with investigators from Ropes & Gray law firm this summer, according to the report published earlier this week, Blackmun acknowledged, when he took the job in 2010, sex abuse was "not on my radar."
“When I started in 2010 if someone said what are the top fifteen priorities for the USOC, I wouldn’t have had sex abuse on the list,” Blackmun said, according to the report.