Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is under intense scrutiny over claims he knew about alleged sexual abuse three decades ago at Ohio State University. Now, the influential congressman and former wrestling coach will face new pressures as lawmakers return to Washington this week.
Jordan’s Fourth of July recess was consumed by controversy, as former Ohio State wrestlers claimed one by one that he knew or must have known about inappropriate behavior allegedly taking place in the athletic department between 1987 and 1995 when he worked as an assistant coach.
Jordan says he has no knowledge of any misconduct or abuse, but his denials and attempts to turn the controversy toward his accusers over the past week have failed to move the spotlight.
“It’s been the toughest week,” Jordan said Friday night on Fox News, three days after the first allegations surfaced. He said his nephew had died, on top of the wrestling controversy. “I mean, it’s just been tough for our family . . . there’s a lot of things that people have to go through, tough things, but it’s just been an emotional week,” he said.
Jordan is known as an aggressive, no-holds-barred leader among conservatives in the House, qualities he cultivated as a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion in the mid-1980s. An ally of President Trump and founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, he is many conservative groups’ pick to replace Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is not running for reelection, if the GOP keeps the House in November.
It is unclear how the allegations could affect a potential bid for speaker by Jordan. One of his defenders, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), suggested the allegations are designed to hurt Jordan, a leading critic of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, as he prepares to grill FBI agent Peter Strzok in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.
“How is Jim Jordan supposed to prove that he didn’t know something 28 years ago?” Gaetz tweeted Friday. “Could any of us? This is a deliberate attempt to knock the best oversight member of Congress off his game.”
On Monday, two ethics experts asked an independent congressional watchdog to look at Jordan’s case. Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, and Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, argued in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics that it should conduct a preliminary inquiry into whether Jordan’s denials are false. OCE findings are sometimes referred to the House Ethics Committee.
“If Rep. Jordan is lying, he failed to protect student wrestlers under his supervision,” Wertheimer said in a statement to The Washington Post. “This is a very serious matter that goes to the institutional integrity of the House and its Members.”
“The evidence that Rep. Jordan is lying continues to mount,” Eisen stated. “If this were a ‘he said, he said’ matter, that would be one thing. But with seven witnesses already stepping forward and perhaps more in the wings, an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation is needed.”
A spokesman for Jordan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
In April, the university announced that it was ordering an independent investigation into former sports physician Richard Strauss, who has been accused of groping athletes during appointments. Strauss committed suicide in 2005.
Jordan said Friday that he will meet with investigators affiliated with Ohio State this week.
As of Sunday evening, seven wrestlers had said that Jordan knew or must have known about Strauss’s alleged behavior or other sexually inappropriate conduct in the showers at Ohio State’s Larkins Hall. David Range, who wrestled for Ohio State in the late 1980s, said Jordan had to have known about the alleged misconduct because wrestlers discussed it frequently in the locker room when Jordan was present.
“Jordan definitely knew that these things were happening — yes, most definitely,” Range told The Washington Post on Saturday. “It was there. He knew about it because it was an everyday occurrence. . . . Everybody joked about it and talked about it all the time.”
One of the most direct charges that Jordan knew came from Dunyasha Yetts, another former wrestler at the university, who told Politico on Friday that he once asked Jordan and head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson to accompany him to an examination with Strauss so the doctor wouldn’t touch him inappropriately. Jordan’s office denied this happened when asked by Politico.
Range said he never discussed the issue with Jordan one on one and did not know whether anyone made a formal report.
“We talked about it all the time in the locker room” while Jordan was there, he said. “Everybody joked about it and talked about it all the time.”
The Strauss probe ordered by Ohio State covers 14 sports, as well as allegations that Strauss abused high school students. An article from the school’s student newspaper in 1989 stated that Ohio State offered wrestling camps for youths during the summer.
A spokesman for Ohio State, Benjamin Johnson, declined to provide more detail on the camps or to say whether investigators at law firm Porter Wright are looking into them as part of their probe. Johnson declined to say whether allegations from the other schools are part of the investigation.
“We cannot discuss details of the ongoing independent investigation,” Johnson wrote Sunday in an email to The Post. “We shared on June 29 that the independent investigators are also investigating whether, and to what extent, Dr. Strauss may have examined high school-aged students during his time at the university.”
Strauss’s 228-page employment record, posted online by Ohio State, reveals that he worked at about half a dozen medical schools and institutions before landing in Columbus in 1978. The documents show Strauss was licensed to practice medicine in seven states by 1975, and had taught physiology at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
When the House reconvenes Tuesday, many Republican lawmakers will face questions about the wrestling controversy for the first time. Only a handful of conservatives jumped to defend Jordan over the break as the story unfolded.
“I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of the utmost character, honor and integrity,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told CNN on Friday night. “I’m proud to stand by Jim Jordan and support him 100 percent and call on all of my colleagues to do the same.”
Democratic critics included Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is running for New York attorney general.
“This is the same Jim Jordan who as a Congressman has self-righteously demanded investigations of anything and everything under the sun,” Maloney tweeted Saturday. “Well, times’s up, Jim. We need to hear these victims and investigate Jim Jordan now.”
Former Ohio State wrestlers reached by phone over the weekend expressed exhaustion at the media onslaught. Some defended Jordan and said they believed his denial, even while acknowledging that there was inappropriate behavior happening in Larkins Hall.
Andy Geiger, who was named athletic director at Ohio State in April 1994, said Sunday that he worked with Hellickson to move the wrestlers out of Larkins because of complaints about voyeurism in the showers. The team was eventually relocated to Steelwood Athletic Training Facility, a new building that opened in 2003, and Larkins Hall was demolished two years later.
“I was concerned that we not have harassment on either side — that the wrestlers be left alone and feel secure and not harassed or observed or approached,” Geiger told The Post, recalling his desire to protect wrestlers who were “feeling uncomfortable.” “At the same time, I didn’t want [the athletes] to retaliate or make a mistake they would regret.”
Geiger said he had been interviewed by Perkins Coie, a law firm involved in the investigation. He said he does not remember much about Strauss and does not know whether Jordan knew about the alleged misconduct, saying the two overlapped at Ohio State for only a short time. Jordan left the athletic staff on May 31, 1995, according to the school.
Strauss, who killed himself in 2005, was described as an “icon” of sports medicine after he died by the Physician and Sportsmedicine, a trade publication he once edited, according to an obituary.
In a 1980 memo included in his employment file, Strauss described his routine, which included a reference to Larkins Hall. He left Ohio State in 1998.
“Currently, I spend about 20% of my time in clinical sports medicine with OSU varsity athletes, at the Sports Medicine Clinic of the Student Health Service and at the Larkins Hall training room daily in the late afternoon,” he wrote.