Michigan State is still trying to cover up its enabling of Larry Nassar
On Friday morning, the Michigan Attorney General’s office released a damning report on its investigation into how Michigan State University mishandled sexual abuse allegations against former MSU doctor Larry Nassar. The report revealed that MSU’s enabling of Nassar went deeper than previously known, and that the school’s cover-up in the aftermath still continues today.
Throughout the AG’s investigation, MSU has issued misleading public statements, drowned investigators in irrelevant documents, waged needless battles over the relevant ones, and asserted attorney-client privilege even when it wasn’t applicable, according to the report.
“Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation,” the 16-page report says.
This investigation began on January 27, 2018, three days after hundreds of his victims bravely finished delivering their victim-impact statements at his sentencing hearing, where Nassar was given a de-facto life sentence. The MSU Board of Trustees formally requested the investigation, saying that it was “ready to fully cooperate with [the AG’s] review.”
Attorney General Bill Schuette appointed independent special counsel William Forsyth to lead the investigation, since Schuette was running for Governor (he lost the election in November). To date, the AG’s investigators have contacted almost 550 people, including interviews of over 280 victims and 105 current or former MSU employees, and reviewed about 105,000 documents, consisting of almost 500,000 pages. So far, the investigation has led to criminal charges against former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klagees, former MSU Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel, and former President of MSU Lou Anna K. Simon.
Because the criminal cases are pending, the report is not explicit about many details pertaining to Klages, Strampel, and Simon. However, it does paint a lurid picture of the lengths that MSU has gone through to disrupt or stymie the investigation, despite its public promise of full cooperation.
First, MSU portrayed the hiring of former US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a step towards investigating how MSU handled allegations against Nassar and to provide a public report with its findings. However, Fitzgerald was only hired to help protect the institution from any upcoming litigation, not to help with transparency and accountability.
Then, though MSU claimed that all of its employees were instructed to fully cooperate with the AG’s investigation, the school insisted on having a MSU-hired attorney — one who was representing the university, not the individuals — attend the AG’s interviews with MSU employees.
Further, while MSU was boasting about how many documents it had provided to investigators, the reality was that many of those documents were completely irrelevant, “such as the University’s Bed Bug Management-Infection Control policy, various restaurant coupons, and the seemingly endless (and duplicative) supply of emails from news-clipping services containing publicly available articles.”
Meanwhile, MSU withheld or redacted thousands of documents, citing attorney-client privilege — a right they could have waived — and balked when the AG’s office expressed doubt over their interpretation of the rule. However, in emails that the AG’s office was able to obtain, it was clear that MSU was trying to use the privilege in nefarious ways.
In one email, Vice President for Communications and Brand Strategy, Heather Swain, told Trustee Brian Breslin to copy University legal counsel Robert Noto on an email to other Trustees in order to “maintain privilege,” even though the email was not seeking any legal advice from Noto. Another email, sent by Secretary of the Board Bill Beekman to then-President Simon in December 2017, ended with the phrase, “I will delete this email after sending it.”
The AG’s office asked the board of trustees to waive privilege, they denied the request. It then asked that MSU turn over the documents in question to a neutral third-party for review, and they denied that request as well.
During a court fight over these documents, the AG’s office discovered that MSU had withheld or redacted 7,651 documents — more than 6,000 more documents than they had told the AG’s office they were withholding.
Currently, the AG’s office is locked in a battle with MSU over 177 documents it insists is crucial to its investigation. Forsyth’s report says that MSU’s behavior shows they are far more interested in covering up than coming clean.
“An institution truly interested in the truth would not have acted as MSU has. MSU’s initial decision to hire a private law firm to conduct its internal investigation, its subsequent refusal to release the results of that investigation and waive attorney-client privilege, along with its insistence on having its attorneys attend witness interviews have made it virtually impossible to know exactly what happened at MSU during the Nassar years,” the report says.
“For as long as MSU frustrates the search for the truth, we will never be fully confident that we have it,” the report adds.
MSU responded to the Forsyth report with a tone-deaf statement that essentially celebrated the fact that the AG’s office “has fond no criminal conduct beyond those formerly charged.”
Statement from MSU on Forsyth report released today. pic.twitter.com/tA5zAVHAF8
— Matt Mencarini (@MattMencarini) December 21, 2018
Nassar was interviewed for the investigation, and the report notes that the serial abuser was completely without remorse during his interview, and that it was clear his apology at his sentencing hearing had been a “farce.”
The report also went into detail about the botched Title IX investigation in 2014, in which Kristine Moore of MSU’s Title IX Office allowed three doctors with close ties to MSU and Nassar to serve as expert witnesses to evaluate whether his “treatments” were medically legitimate. It notes that Moore shielded those same doctors from extremely important details about the allegations against Nassar, such as the fact that the survivor reported that “Nassar placed three fingers on top of [her] vagina and rubbed in a circular motion.”
It also went into further detail about what 13 women reported to 12 MSU employees about Nassar’s abuse between 1997 and 2015, and noted that 11 of those 12 failed to report that abuse to authorities. Notably, outside of Klages, none of the employees mentioned in the report have been charged at this time.
The report did not indicate that these 11 employees conspired to cover up Nassar’s crimes. Rather, it said their inaction was endemic of MSU’s culture, which was about protecting the brand first and foremoth.
“That so many survivors independently disclosed to so many different MSU employees over so many years, each time with no success, reveals a problem that cannot be explained as mere isolated, individual failures; it is evidence of a larger cultural problem at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic and MSU more broadly,” the report said.
“For as varied as the details of the survivors’ accounts are, there is a common thread through each: the tendency of MSU employees to give the benefit of the doubt to Nassar, not the young women who came forward.”