The last time Rep. Jim Jordan had his eye on the speaker’s gavel, he was dogged by allegations that he did nothing to stop a doctor from abusing student-athletes. This time, the former wrestling coach has faced relatively few questions about that era of his past.
“It was 30 years ago. It was investigated and there was nothing found as far as Jim’s concerned,” New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew said Tuesday night. “And that’s not the man I know.”
As Republicans scrambled to fill the speaker vacancy this week, Jordan’s supporters were quick to dismiss the accusations, which he has repeatedly denied, that he knew about sexual abuse at The Ohio State University when he worked there as an assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1994.
“Hasn’t this already been dealt with?” said Rep. Byron Donalds, as he headed into a Florida delegation meeting Tuesday afternoon. “What I’m going to do right now is find a speaker of the House. I’m not getting into stuff like that from years ago.”
Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina raised eyebrows over the weekend when she went further, suggesting she had never heard Jordan’s name linked to the scandal at Ohio State.
“I know you’ve been outspoken about defending victims of sexual assault. Do the past allegations against Jim Jordan that he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse give you any reservations?” CBS’ Margaret Brennan asked on “Face the Nation.”
“I’m not familiar or aware [of] that. He’s not indicted on anything that I’m aware of. And so I don’t know anything and can’t speak to that. … I don’t know anything about that,” Mace said.
Mace, Donalds and Van Drew are three of more than 40 House Republicans who had announced their support for Jordan as he faced off against Majority Leader Steve Scalise this week. As intraparty tensions spilled into the open in the race to replace ousted leader Kevin McCarthy, members tried to signal they were focused on the future.
Outside groups and GOP fundraisers, even those with little affinity for Jordan and the Freedom Caucus he founded, were also staying away from the issue.
“It’s not something that’s being discussed right now,” said Charles Moran, head of the Log Cabin Republicans, a political group that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. “It’s a 30-year-old story that has been adjudicated. I don’t think it’s germane to the broader conversation around the speaker.”
The Ohio State abuse exploded into view decades after the fact, as former students began to come forward to accuse Richard Strauss, a doctor who treated wrestlers and other athletes from the late 1970s to the 1990s. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
By the summer of 2018, the university had hired law firm Perkins Coie to conduct an independent investigation. Around the same time, Jordan’s public profile was growing. He had come to Congress in 2007, helped found the conservative Freedom Caucus in 2015 and was then considering a bid to replace Paul D. Ryan in leadership, after the then-speaker said he wouldn’t run for reelection.
When former wrestler Adam DiSabato and others said Jordan knew the abuse was happening but did nothing to intervene, the Ohio Republican denied it.
“I never saw, never heard of, never was told about any type of abuse. If I had been, I would have dealt with it,” Jordan told Fox News’ Bret Baier in July 2018. “Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse or reported abuse.”
Asked why former wrestlers were coming forward to say he knew, Jordan replied, “The timing is suspect.” He cited a fiery Judiciary Committee hearing that had put him in the spotlight several days earlier, along with talk he would run for speaker.
When he formally announced his speaker ambitions later that month, his bid was marred by the Ohio State allegations, as questions continued to swirl. Ultimately, Democrats reclaimed the House majority and the speakership in 2018, leaving Jordan to compete for minority leader — a race he soundly lost to McCarthy.
Strauss abused at least 177 students while he was a doctor at the school, according to the independent investigation released by the university in 2019. He victimized athletes on the swimming and diving, gymnastics, fencing and lacrosse teams, performing unnecessary genital exams, among other things. He also abused at least 48 wrestlers, according to the report, which said Strauss’ behavior was an “open secret” in the athletics department.
Student-athletes interviewed as part of the inquiry said that “it appeared to them that their coaches, trainers, and other team physicians were fully aware of Strauss’ activities, and yet few seemed inclined to do anything to stop it.” Twenty-two coaches confirmed to investigators that they were aware of rumors or complaints about Strauss.
Jordan is not named in the report and is not a defendant in pending lawsuits against Ohio State filed by former athletes. The Supreme Court in June declined to rule on the school’s appeal, meaning the lawsuits could proceed.
Pundits have begun to speculate, sometimes gleefully, that Jordan could be deposed as part of those proceedings. New Republic editor Michael Tomasky laid out that possibility in a column titled “Six Reasons Why Liberals Should Salivate at a Speaker Jordan.”
And at least one Democratic member of Congress has revived the accusations that Jordan failed to protect his wrestlers. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, speaking on MSNBC last week, said it showed him what kind of speaker Jordan would be.
“Because of his natural authoritarianism, he loves to cover up and apologize for men in power who abused their power to vicious ends,” Raskin said. “And he did that with the sexual abuser on the wrestling team back in Ohio. And of course he has devoted his career recently to covering up all of the constitutional crimes and offenses and the outrage that’s committed by Donald Trump.”