Wrestling wasn’t just a youth sport for Rep. Jim Jordan. It’s central to the Ohio Republican’s identity.
When Jordan floated himself as a candidate for House speaker, his allies cited his history on the wrestling mat as a reason for how tough and serious he would take the race. “If Congressman Jordan decides to run, just like he did when he was a two-time national champion wrestler, I don’t think he’s going to run for last,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close ally, said the day after Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced plans to retire.
A visit to Jordan’s campaign website finds this opening statement: “Jim Jordan’s background as a four-time state champion and two-time NCAA champion in the sport of wrestling helped prepare him to take on some of the toughest political opponents in Washington.”
And then the site directs visitors to videos of Jordan facing off against an opponent, either a witness or a TV news interviewer. “Why are you keeping information from Congress?” Jordan shouts at Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in the first video, starting a seven-minute cross-examination.
Now Jordan is the one under withering scrutiny as he faces multiple accusations that he knew or should have know about the alleged sexual misconduct of a doctor who worked with the Ohio State wrestling team when Jordan was an assistant coach there between 1986 and 1995.
He has reacted to the charges with the same combative persona he has cultivated for years — denying he knew anything and aggressively counterattacking by raising questions about the motives of the former wrestlers who have come forward to describe the abuse.
“I stood up to the speaker of the House from my home state, to the IRS and to the FBI. To think that I would not stand up for my athletes is ridiculous,” Jordan told reporters Wednesday.
But it could be a perilous approach, with Jordan’s critics pointing out he has rarely given others the benefit of the doubt he is now expecting. Even his defenders acknowledge there were problems in the athletic program while Jordan was working there, and the state’s attorney general office, overseen by Republican Mike DeWine, is examining “acts of sexual misconduct” in several of the school’s sports programs.
Jordan has given himself little room to maneuver.
“He’s a person who has always said everybody — Oh, my gosh, if you look at his record. ‘So and so should have known this, so and so should have known that, so and so should have known that,’ ” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “Well, many people say that he did know, and by his own standard, he should have known.”
Jordan has repeatedly denied having detailed knowledge of the accusations against Richard Strauss — who died in 2005 in what was ruled a suicide — which include abusing wrestlers during examinations.
Jordan has shown no signs he will keep a low profile while the investigation plays out.
Thursday he was back in the hearing room, tearing into another witness.
“This is unbelievable, but that’s where it’s gotten to now and it’s as frustrating as it can get,” he said after FBI agent Peter Strzok said that at the bureau’s insistence he was unable to answer certain questions about his controversial role in the investigation into whether any associates of President Trump conspired with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election.
A co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative wing of Congress, Jordan helped force John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) out of office and, as he did on Thursday, he has clashed with the FBI over its political investigations.
But his closest allies say the fact that the allegations against him involve his wrestling career hits at something that is even more fundamental than his conservative ideology. “If you look up wrestling in the dictionary, it would have Jim Jordan’s picture beside it, so it’s a passion,” Meadows said in a brief interview Thursday.
Jordan won four state championships as a high school wrestler in Ohio, followed by two NCAA championships at the University of Wisconsin. His younger brother, Jeff, won four state high school championships, and multiple generations of Jordans have contributed to for more than 20 Ohio state championships.
A 2015 profile of Jordanin SB Nation said that the Jordans are the “first family of American wrestling.”
The most important lesson he ever learned came from his high school wrestling coach. “It has stayed with me,” Jordan told the sports website. “‘Discipline is doing what you don’t like when you don’t want to do it.’”
In Congress, Jordan is not a big legislator, not someone who brokers deals. Instead, he derives his power from understanding how to blow things up, to make Republican speakers fear that the Freedom Caucus will undermine their hold on power unless they give into their demands. His flirtation with running for speaker is not really about winning — he is disliked by mainstream conservatives and moderates — but it’s about leveraging concessions to the far right from whomever has the most backing.
Now that Jordan’s credibility is on the line, he is relying on leadership to shore up his defense. “We haven’t always agreed with each other over the years. But I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of honesty and a man of integrity,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday.
Jordan has hinted, with no evidence, that the allegations against him have been timed to damage his credibility in his critique of the FBI and as he has flirted with a speaker bid.
That accusation overlooks the role of DeWine, who is the GOP nominee for governor of Ohio in the November elections. Jordan and his allies have highlighted the role in the investigation being played by the law firm Perkins Coie, which was involved in retaining the firm that produced the dossier that contained allegations of Trump’s ties to Russia.
But DeWine’s office appointed the law firm to conduct the investigation, and that firm subcontracted with Perkins Coie to do some of the work. Perkins Coie’s Washington office is run by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign lawyer, but the firm lawyers working the Ohio State investigation work in Chicago.
Ultimately, the investigation may be revealed in public, which could render a clear judgment on what Jordan knew and what he and other sports coaches did or did not do.
Until then, Jordan is unlikely to back down or make any concessions.
“I learned that in wrestling: hard work and perseverance and doing what is needed,” as he told his profile writer in 2015.