Allies seek to defend Jim Jordan from Ohio State allegations

Allies seek to defend Jim Jordan from Ohio State allegations
© Greg Nash

Embattled Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMore than 100 ex-Ohio State students share allegations of sexual misconduct by doctor: AP The Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ohio) and his allies went on offense Monday as a half dozen former wrestling coaches rallied behind their former Ohio State coaching colleague and insisted he did not know about a team doctor sexually assaulting student-athletes decades ago.

In a phone interview on Monday, former Ohio State University head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson vehemently denied that he or Jordan had ever seen or been told that Dr. Richard Strauss was molesting or sexually assaulting OSU wrestlers during the 1980s and '90s.

“I am frankly pissed off at what they are doing to Jim Jordan. This is hysteria and politics running the narrative,” Hellickson told The Hill in a phone interview. Jordan “gave his heart and soul to the personal development of these athletes. If they are attacking him, why aren’t they attacking the 30 or 40 other coaches at OSU?"

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“A whole lot of people were in the dark here. Nobody recognized this,” Hellickson added. “Jim Jordan didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anything, and I don’t think any of the other coaches knew anything.”

Moments later, Hellickson and five other former OSU coaches issued a joint statement defending Jordan and saying that they would have “spoken up” had athletes reported specific cases of sexual abuse to them.

“What has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong. We all worked on the wrestling coaching staff during Jim’s tenure at The Ohio State University. None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers,” the half dozen coaches said in a joint statement. “The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.”

The six OSU coaches are Hellickson and five former assistant coaches: Dave Ruckman, Rex Holman, Ken Chertow, Myron Kharchilava and Kenny Ramsey Jr.

The statement was distributed in a press release sent out by Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a conservative PR shop which Jordan has hired to help him respond to the ballooning crisis. The firm, based in Alexandria, Va., is helping reporters set up interviews with the Jordan defenders.  

The coaches’ statement contradicts allegations by seven former OSU wrestlers who have publicly stated that Jordan knew or must have known about the sexual abuse of OSU athletes while he was an assistant wrestling coach there from 1987 to 1995.

“Doc Strauss was a serial groper of our bodies, including of our testicles,” Mike DiSabato, a former wrestler at OSU, told CNN last week. “I consider Jim a friend, but for whatever reason, he has made the decision to deny something that absolutely happened. He had knowledge of it. His locker was next to Doc Strauss.”

The allegations come as Jordan, a former NCAA Division I wrestling champ, reached out to GOP colleagues about a possible run for Speaker of the House.

So far, no Republicans in Congress have called on Jordan to resign, while President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE defended the founding chairman of the powerful conservative Freedom Caucus. GOP lawmakers are expected to be hit with questions about the controversy when they return from the weeklong July Fourth recess.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanInterior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election MORE (R-Wis.) has called the accusations “serious” and said OSU’s internal, independent investigation needs to play out.

Former White House ethics chief Norm Eisen filed a formal ethics complaint against Jordan on Monday.

Jordan, an attack dog who frequently appears on cable news defending Trump and calling out leaders in both parties, has been adamant that he knew nothing about any abuse of his wrestlers.

“Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse or reported abuse,” Jordan said on Fox News on Friday. “No one ever reported any abuse to me.”

The conservative ringleader called the timing of the allegations “suspicious” and took a swipe at the law firm conducting the independent investigation.

The initial bombshell report from NBC News came on the heels of a widely publicized hearing where Jordan grilled Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Rosenstein warns of growing cyber threat from Russia, other foreign actors MORE.

Jordan’s defense strategy has also centered on attacking the credibility of the two wrestlers who initially came forward with the accusations that Jordan turned a blind eye to the alleged abuse.

The Ohio Republican told Fox News that DiSabato has a criminal past and a “vendetta” against both the school and Jordan’s family.

DiSabato has a long history of litigation, including a 2007 suit against OSU over a merchandising dispute, according to the university’s student newspaper. And Dunyasha Yetts, another accuser and former wrestling champ, spent 18 months in prison for bilking investors out of nearly $2 million.

In addition to Jordan’s coaching colleagues, Jordan’s political allies in the Freedom Caucus are also rushing to his defense. That includes Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.), the group’s chairman and Jordan’s closest friend in Congress, and Reps. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertHouse GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Ex-GOP lawmaker: Strzok hearing 'was a humiliating day' for Republicans Peter Strzok exhibited an astonishing lack of self-awareness MORE (R-Texas) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.).

The Freedom Caucus will huddle Tuesday night where the Jordan controversy is sure to come up.

“I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of the utmost character, honor and integrity,” Meadows said. “As the independent investigation is concluded, I’m confident people will learn the truth and it will confirm all he has said about the situation. I’m proud to stand by Jim Jordan and support him 100 percent.”

Other Freedom Caucus members have taken a page out of the conservative playbook, calling the allegations a “drive-by character assassination” and questioning the credibility of both accusers and the law firm leading the Strauss investigation.

“Jim Jordan is a fine and decent person who has a lifetime history of being honorable and honest, unlike his accusers whose extremely troubled backgrounds and ongoing legal and financial troubles place the veracity of their allegations into the realm of ridiculous,” Gohmert said in a statement. “They waited over 20 years to make these allegations with the willing and very expensive assistance of Perkins Coie, a Washington, D.C.-based dirty tricks law firm.”

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.