Former USA Gymnastics president invokes the Fifth at Senate hearing
WASHINGTON — The former president ofrefused to answer questions Tuesday from a Senate subcommittee about how he handled allegations of sexual abuse by . Another former executive sat next to him and asserted that he instructed her and others to keep quiet after she informed him of athletes’ claims.
Rhonda Faehn, the former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, said she first reported an allegation against Nassar to Steve Penny, her then-boss, on June 17, 2015. Nassar was not arrested until more than a year later. He is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography, and hundreds of athletes have said they were abused by him, including Olympic gymnasts, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles.
The revelations about Nassar’s conduct over two decades and the way it was handled by Penny and others have led Congress to call for drastic reforms of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and other sports’ governing bodies.
Faehn said Penny warned her and others not to discuss the allegations against Nassar and that she wrongly assumed he had taken the allegations to law enforcement.
“He told me not to say anything or do anything because he was going to handle everything going forward,” Faehn said in her written testimony, “and he told me he was going to report the concerns to proper authorities, which I assumed included law enforcement.”
Faehn reiterated those claims as Penny, who was forced out as president of USA Gymnastics last year, sat silently next to her. When it was his turn to speak, he didn’t say much.
Penny invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination six times before he was excused by the panel. As he slowly limped out of the hearing room, former gymnast Amy Moran shouted “Shame!” in his direction. Moran alleges she was abused by her former coach and reported it to Penny, and she was unsatisfied with Penny’s response to the allegations, which she now sees as a precursor to how he handled the Nassar case.
Penny was subpoenaed to appear before the committee. Senators questioned him on when he found out about the abuse allegations and why he waited to inform law enforcement or Nassar’s employer, Michigan State University.
Asked why he waited to contact law enforcement about Nassar, Penny said: “I would like to answer your question. However, I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment. … I respectfully decline to answer your question.”
Penny has been named as a defendant in a number of lawsuits by athletes who were victimized by Nassar.
“He is repulsed by Larry Nassar’s crimes, and he feels nothing but compassion for the victims of those crimes,” Penny’s attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement. “Mr. Penny declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open.”
Faehn broke into tears as she described the actions she took in an effort to protect Nassar’s victims. But victims who attended the hearing said they were disappointed she didn’t do more.
“You just see all these little people thinking they did their thing, but no one took the one step that should have been taken, which is go to the police, or the authorities. The one thing one person could have done is do that. No one did that,” said former gymnast Emily Stebbins, who alleges she was abused by Nassar the first time he examined her as a teenager.
“You see what Steve Penny did with the information,” Stebbins said of Faehn. “What should you have done further when you saw no action was being taken?”
Faehn also said she was fired last month immediately after she informed current USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry that she was willing to testify before the committee and that she likely would be subpoenaed if she refused.
USA Gymnastics representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the circumstances of Faehn’s firing.
Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon also appeared Tuesday under subpoena, although she said she was willing to testify and was compelled by subpoena only because her attorney had a scheduling conflict.
“I am horrified that Nassar’s crimes happened during my tenure,” Simon said. “Had I known that Nassar was sexually abusing young women, I would have taken immediate action to prevent him from preying on additional victims.”
The subcommittee chairman, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, and other senators pledged to continue their work toward reform of U.S. Olympic sports’ governing bodies.
“Apologies are not enough,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. “We have to honor these survivors with real action.”