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Politicizing a Pervert: Parties Take Aim Over Gymnastics Doc's Sexual Abuse

Larry Nassar swears in during his sentencing near defense attorney Matthew Newberg at Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich., on Jan. 31, 2018. (Cory Morse /The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Michigan State University president Lou Anna K. Simon predicted the Larry Nassar case would go political soon after the former Michigan State University sports and USA Gymnastics physician was sentenced to 175 years in prison on Jan. 24 for sexually abusing his patients.

Nassar was also sentenced to 60 years in prison after being convicted of federal child pornography charges Dec. 7.

“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” Simon said in a statement as she announced her resignation following the Nassar sexual abuse verdict.

Then, the politicians proved Simon correct.

“Who will hold the people who failed these brave women accountable so this NEVER happens again? I hope the answer is #SpartansWill,” Gretchen Whitmer, the leading candidate in the Michigan Democratic gubernatorial primary, tweeted.

“For the sake of the survivors, our students, future Spartans, and MI taxpayers — it’s time to launch an independent investigation,” Whitmer added.

To which Michigan Republican Party communications director Sarah Anderson replied in a statement: “This morning, in a cheap attempt to seize headlines, Gretchen Whitmer called for the people who failed Larry Nassar’s victims to be held accountable. In my opinion, that should start with her.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is also one of the leading candidates in the Michigan GOP’s gubernatorial primary, made Whitmer’s wish come true.

“It is abundantly clear that a full and complete investigation of what happened at Michigan State University, from the president’s office on down, is required. This investigation is and will continue to be, independent, thorough, transparent and prompt,” said Schuette. “My department and this investigation will find out who knew what, and when.”

Anderson said Whitmer should be held accountable for not taking action.

“As Interim Ingham County Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer had the chance to hold Larry Nassar accountable for the crimes that he committed against hundreds of women. Instead she chose to pass the buck. It’s clear that when it’s time to stand up for what is right and make a real difference #WhitmerWont,” Anderson said.

While the proposition of a Democratic gubernatorial candidate being on the wrong side of an investigation conducted by a Republican gubernatorial candidate might seem the result of expedient opportunism, it has to be noted this is not the first time Schuette has been involved in the Nassar case.

Nassar was linked with sexual abuse allegations in a Michigan State University police report in August 2016. The MSU Police asked the state attorney general for assistance.

Schuette’s office charged Nassar with three felony counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct First Degree. The victim was under 13 years of age, according to an Attorney General’s Office statement.

“Dr. Nassar stole this victim’s childhood which can never be undone,” Schuette said at the time. “As a father that thought is heartbreaking. Today’s charges are the first step toward providing long overdue justice for this victim and will help take someone who appears to be a predator off the streets.”

Evidence showed Nassar abused the child for several years in his Ingham County, Mich., home. However, the alleged victim was neither a patient nor gymnast in Nassar’s care.

Schuette filed a second round of charges against Nassar in February 2017.

Nassar pleaded guilty to seven felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree on Nov. 22, 2017, in Ingham County, and to three felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree in Eaton County on Nov. 29, 2017.

Schuette won’t be working in a vacuum as he investigates how MSU and local law enforcement handled 150 reports of Nassar abusing patients.

Michigan legislative Republicans want in on this, too.

State House Speaker Tom Leonard (R) ordered the House Law and Justice Committee, as well as the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, to look into how MSU handled the Nassar case.

“Despite a public outcry for greater transparency and accountability in light of the many unanswered questions surrounding the case, the University has so far refused to reveal the events that occurred on its campus,” Leonard wrote in a letter to the committee chairs. “The people of Michigan deserve better than silence, and the Legislature must be assured of the University’s ability to properly administer existing laws.”

“It’s not just the head of the university (Simon) that failed these young girls,” said Rep. Klint Kesto (R), who also started an inquiry into MSU and Dr. Nassar.

“We have to, have to keep our foot on the gas to make sure that we can change in policy, put the right appropriations in place, to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Kesto added.

Republican political consultant Dennis Lennox also weighed in with a lawsuit which attempts to force Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to investigate “possible institutional complicity” in MSU’s relationship with Nassar and accusations the school covered up much of what officials knew about the abuse.

“The inquiry into these officials by the Governor is warranted by the well-publicized accounts of sexual abuse of at least 144 women and children by MSU employee Larry Nassar, by Nassar’s guilty please, and the apparent information that MSU officials … may have been aware of Nassar’s sexual abuse under the employ and agency of MSU,” according to the filing.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a Department of Education investigation into the MSU-Nassar case, as have the NCAA and Congress.

“My heart breaks for the survivors of Larry Nassar’s disgusting crimes,” DeVos said in a statement. “What happened at Michigan State is abhorrent. It cannot ever happen again — there or anywhere. Students must be safe and protected on our nation’s campuses.”

Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said they want answers from USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University about “systemic failures to protect athletes from sexual abuse and the reported filing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to silence a victim of abuse.”

Moran and Blumenthal also called for approval of legislation that would “alleviate any confusion or uncertainty surrounding the responsibility of NGBs and associated volunteers to report child and sexual abuse to law enforcement by making it a federal crime in failing to do so.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story implied that Anderson called for an investigation of Whitmer. The story has been corrected.