Ohio State sex scandal complicates Jordan’s possible Speaker bid

Ohio State sex scandal complicates Jordan’s possible Speaker bid
© Anna Moneymaker

Allegations that Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFreedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign GOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Kavanaugh is a 'huge step backwards,' says Dem congressional candidate MORE failed to stop a team doctor from sexually abusing student athletes when the Ohio Republican was a college wrestling coach is complicating his possible bid for Speaker of the House.

The NBC News story dropped Tuesday just as Jordan began reaching out to GOP colleagues, urging them to ditch Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGoogle CEO to meet privately with top Republican lawmakers 13 states accepted Sessions invitation to meeting on social media bias: report This week: Kavanaugh nomination thrown into further chaos MORE (R-Calif.) and instead back him for the top job in the House GOP conference.

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Jordan, 54, the powerful founding chairman of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, has not formally announced a bid for Speaker but has said he plans to be “part of the discussion” in the race to replace retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow the Trump tax law passed: Dealing with a health care hangover Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors Jordan wants Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee MORE (R-Wis.) after the fall midterm elections.

Three former wrestlers at Ohio State University (OSU) told NBC News that Dr. Richard Strauss, who died in 2005, sexually molested teammates when he served as the team doctor from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. It would have been impossible for Jordan not to have known about the abuse, the wrestlers told the news outlet.

One of Jordan’s former wrestlers, Dunyasha Yetts, said he and his teammates personally complained to Jordan and others about Strauss’s inappropriate behavior many times. But some Jordan allies cast doubt about the credibility of his accusers. Yetts, a former wrestling champion, spent 18 months in prison for bilking investors out of nearly $2 million.

Another accuser quoted in the NBC story, Mike DiSabato, has a long history of litigation, including a 2007 suit against OSU over a merchandising dispute, according to the university’s student newspaper.

OSU has launched an independent investigation into the allegations against Strauss and whether enough was done to protect the students.

In a statement, Jordan, a former Ohio state lawmaker and seven-term congressman, explicitly denied having any knowledge of the alleged abuse while coaching at OSU from 1986 to 1994.

“Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse, and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State,” Jordan spokesman Ian Fury said in a statement. “He has not been contacted by investigators about the matter but will assist them in any way they ask, because if what is alleged is true, the victims deserve a full investigation and justice.”

Jordan declined to speak to The Hill on the record.

Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, the law firm appointed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) as legal counsel for OSU, has hired Perkins Coie LLP to conduct an independent investigation into the Strauss case. Investigators had contacted Jordan’s office by both phone and email to set up an interview but did not get a reply from Jordan, according to Porter Wright partner Kathleen Trafford.

“To date, Rep. Jordan has not responded to those requests, but we understand from public statements issued on his behalf today that Rep. Jordan is willing to talk to the investigative team,” Trafford said in an email.

Jordan’s spokesman said the office had searched its records and did not find any requests from investigators seeking an interview.

GOP sources and friends who know Jordan well said they were shocked by the allegations in the NBC report. Jordan has burnished a reputation on Capitol Hill as a straight-talking, no-nonsense politician who’s called out House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHillicon Valley: State officials share tech privacy concerns with Sessions | Senator says election security bill won't pass before midterms | Instagram co-founders leave Facebook | Google chief to meet GOP lawmakers over bias claims Collins defends ad showing opponent speaking Korean against claims of bigotry Hoyer questions feasibility of new threshold for Speaker nomination MORE (Calif.) and the Democrats as much as he has his own GOP leadership team.

So they said it was bizarre to read accounts in the NBC story that Jordan did not call out allegations of sexual abuse of his own wrestlers.

One of Jordan’s wrestlers, George Pardos, described Strauss as “weird” but said he never experienced inappropriate touching or sexual abuse by the doctor during his numerous examinations.

Pardos, who wrestled at OSU from 1988 to 1993, said it was unfathomable that Jordan would have turned a blind eye to alleged abuse, recalling that Jordan once picked up and carried the much-heavier Pardos after he severely injured his knee and once checked a teammate into a drug rehabilitation center.

“For Jimmy to know that this was going on and not do anything about it, it wouldn’t happen. It's completely out of character,” Pardos, a Marine Corps veteran, told The Hill in a phone interview.

“I’ve had dinner at his house, worked out with him. This didn’t happen.”

Pardos, who has been interviewed by investigators, accused some of his former teammates of trying to cash in following Michigan State University’s $500 million settlement with hundreds of sexual abuse victims of former university and USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar.  

“After Larry Nassar, everyone is seeing dollar signs,” Pardos said.

The allegations against Jordan came during a congressional recess and on the eve of the Independence Day holiday, but they still reverberated through the GOP conference. A spokesman for Ryan described the news reports about Jordan as “serious allegations and issues.”

“The university has rightfully initiated a full investigation into the matter. The Speaker will await the findings of that inquiry,” said Ryan spokesman Doug Andres.

Other GOP colleagues on Tuesday were trying to assess the possible political fallout from the NBC story, which some speculated came from opposition research on Jordan from political rivals.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if [Jordan rivals] are trying to kill him off early,” one top centrist House GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “This Speaker’s race is going to get ugly, very ugly. … My instincts tell me this is only the beginning.”

While Jordan’s potential Speaker bid has largely been seen as a long shot, with many speculating the powerful conservative group is floating his name as a form of leverage, the former Freedom Caucus leader has received support from top names in the conservative movement.

Fox News’s Sean Hannity and outside groups like Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks have all urged the Ohio Republican to run.

“Regarding recent allegations against Rep. Jim Jordan, this reeks of dirty tricks. Why did it take 20 years for someone to make this accusation?” conservative activist Brent Bozell asked on Twitter. “Could it be because Rep. Jordan is running for GOP House leadership?”

Retiring Rep. Tom GarrettThomas (Tom) Alexander GarrettVirginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence GOP lawmaker: FBI told me Russia contributed to last year's violence at Charlottesville rally Virginia GOP House candidate: I’m not into ‘Bigfoot erotica,’ it’s an ‘anthropological study’ MORE (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member, also said he’s standing by Jordan, raising questions about the credibility of Jordan’s accusers.

“This is the typical ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’” Garrett told The Hill. “There is no possible right answer and apparently the accusers status as a convicted felon is not relevant in a world where anyone on the right is guilty until proven innocent.”

For Jordan, wrestling is part of his political identity. The former NCAA Division I wrestling champ frequently invokes wrestling analogies and reminisces about old matches with colleagues, aides and reporters on Capitol Hill.

Jordan’s recent conversations on the House floor, however, have focused on the Speaker’s race, which will be held after the Nov. 6 midterms. GOP lawmakers told The Hill Jordan has been making a more aggressive and more direct pitch for Speaker in recent days.

Some colleagues have said they could see Jordan being an effective minority leader if Democrats can flip control of the House this fall.

During one floor conversation last week, Jordan told a GOP colleague: “Why don’t you give up McCarthy and back me for Speaker?”

“Why don’t you make a good case for it?” the lawmaker replied to Jordan.