LANSING - Larry Nassar, the disgraced former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, released a statement in an effort to distance himself from comments made by one of his attorneys.
In an interview with WWJ Newsradio 950, attorney Shannon Smith said a "huge part" of her doesn't believe that Nassar sexually abused the more than 250 women and girls who have now come forward to say that he did.
"There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations," Smith said. "Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate."
Smith, who did not attend the final days of Nassar's Ingham County sentencing and did not attend the first day of his Eaton County sentencing, could not be reached for comment.
Nassar, through his attorney Matt Newburg, released a statement on Thursday, saying he did not know Smith was going to make those statements and did not authorize her to do so.
"As I have repeatedly said under oath, the plea agreements are accurate and I have, through my lawyers, asked that the court follow them. I have heard each and every impact statement made by the victims in my cases," Nassar said in the statement
"Their words have been meaningful, they have pierced my soul and I will carry their words with me for the rest of my life. I am sorry about this distraction at a time when the attention should be on the statements of these victims."
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to come forward and publicly say Nassar abused her, addressed Smith's comments in a statement released by her attorneys.
“The level of willful ignorance displayed by Shannon Smith, ignorance of medical procedure, ignorance of the dynamics of sexual assault, and ignorance of her own client, is beyond the pale," she said.
"It was clear during court appearances, as she was taking photos and posing for the press, that sexual assault was nothing more than an opportunity for a photo op and self-promotion. She proves that again today. Fortunately, nothing Ms. Smith says is capable of changing the truth, and the truth is readily apparent for anyone who wishes to know."
Several of the 178 women and girls who have given impact statements during Nassar's sentencing in Ingham and Eaton counties have criticized Smith, including Denhollander, who was the last to speak in Ingham County.
It was Smith who questioned Denhollander, one of the charged victims in the Ingham County case, during Nassar's preliminary hearing last year. Smith questioned Denhollander about her motives for reporting Nassar to police and whether her motivation for money through her lawsuit against MSU played a role.
Smith's questioning of Denhollander was the most contentious of Nassar's three preliminary hearings.
Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General's Office, declined to comment on what Smith said, adding, "We are focused on the sentencing and the statements made by Nassar's victims, as well as our ongoing investigation into what happened at MSU."
An Indianapolis Star investigation of USA Gymnastics, begun in 2016, uncovered widespread sexual abuse of athletes by coaches and others and failures to alert authorities. The IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, revealed the first allegations of abuse by Nassar, in a story that included Denhollander
Nassar, 54, formerly of Holt, pleaded guilty in November to 10 sexual assault charges split between Ingham and Eaton counties. All but one of those charges relate to sexually assaulting patients — digital penetration without gloves — who were minors, including several who were younger than 13 at the time.
Nassar worked at Michigan State University and with USA Gymnastics for decades.
His seven-day sentencing in Ingham County drew international attention to his crimes and connections to those two organizations. Since September 2016, more than 250 women and girls have told law enforcement that Nassar sexually assaulted them.
At least 140 women and girls have filed federal lawsuits against MSU, USA Gymnastics and others saying Nassar abused them and the organizations and their employees didn't do enough to protect them.
Nassar is currently serving a 60 year federal prison sentence for three child pornography charges. Last week, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years on seven Ingham County sexual assault charges. He's expected to be sentenced next week on the three Eaton County sexual assault charges.
Nassar must serve his federal prison sentence before serving any time on the state charges.
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