June 6, 2018 / 10:13 AM / 6 months ago

Ex-USA Gymnastics CEO pleads 5th at Senate hearing on sex abuse scandal

Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny repeatedly exercised his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when asked questions at a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday regarding the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the sport.

Steve Penny, former president of USA Gymnastics invokes his 5th amendment right to not answer questions during testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee as Rhonda Faehn, former director of the USA Gymnastics Women's Program, (L) and Lou Anna Simon, former president of Michigan State University sit with him in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

Penny, who was subpoenaed to testify at the hearing, answered just one question, providing his employment dates. He then pleaded the Fifth in response to a handful of subsequent questions before Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the chair of the committee, asked him if he would continue to do so. When he replied yes, Moran dismissed him.

“I respect your right to invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege. You have that right,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at one point. “But you also have a responsibility. You were part of an organization that in effect prioritize medals and money over the young women and girls, some of them here today, who were sexually abused by (Dr. Larry) Nassar. And in fact, in the absence of your testimony, documents will speak for you.”

It was Penny’s first public appearance since he resigned in March 2017.

“Mr. Penny has devoted his professional life to promoting the development of athletes at all levels in a safe and positive environment,” his attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement. “He is repulsed by Larry Nassar’s crimes, and he feels nothing but compassion for the victims of those crimes. Today, on the advice of his attorney, Mr. Penny declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open.”

As Penny exited the court, former gymnast Amy Compton, one of Nassar’s victims, stood up and yelled, “Shame!”

The subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee was formed in response to the Nassar scandal that played its part in Penny’s resignation. Penny had held the CEO position since 2005.

Nassar, 54, is serving a 60-year sentence at a federal prison in Tucson, Ariz., on child pornography charges. He has been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in one Michigan county and 40 to 125 years in another on sexual assault charges.

Others to appear at Tuesday’s hearing included Rhonda Faehn, a former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, and Lou Anna K. Simon, the former president of Michigan State University, where Nassar served as a physician.

Simon told the subcommittee, “Not a day goes by without me wishing that he had been caught and punished sooner. ... To the survivors of Nassar’s abuse, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician turned out to be an evil predator, and I am sorry that we did not discover his crimes and remove him from our community sooner.”

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