Honest, honorable and trustworthy — these are all attributes House Republicans have ascribed to Rep. Jim Jordan as they’ve reacted skeptically to allegations that the Freedom Caucus founder ignored sexual abuse while an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who like Jordan are considered potential candidates to replace retiring Speaker Paul D. Ryan, were among those who defended the Ohio lawmaker.
McCarthy said he called Jordan over the weekend to see how he was doing, both in reaction to the allegations — which Jordan has denied — and the loss of his nephew, who died last week in a car accident.
“Jim and I came into Congress at the same time together in the same class,” the California Republican told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t know what happened 20 years ago at Ohio State, but what I know — the only person I know in this whole thing is Jim, and Jim to me has been an honest person all the time. And I think if he saw something, he would say it.”
Scalise said he’d always known Jordan to be “honest.”
“I’m confident he would stand up for his athletes, just like he’s always stood up for what’s right,” the Louisiana Republican said in a statement. “I’m glad that Jim is committed to working with the investigators to see that the full truth comes out and justice is served.”
Watch: Ryan Defends Jordan as 'Man of Honesty and of Integrity'
While House members were away from Washington for the July 4 recess, NBC issued a report citing three former Ohio State wrestlers who said Jordan had to have known that Richard Strauss, a doctor who worked with several athletic teams at the school, acted inappropriately toward, and in some cases sexually abused, wrestlers he treated. In April, the university launched an investigation into the allegations against Strauss, who died in 2005.
Since the NBC report, more former wrestlers have since raised similar claims in other media reports, while other former wrestlers and coaches have come to Jordan’s defense. But even some of Jordan’s defenders say it was fairly widespread knowledge that Strauss inappropriately looked at and sometimes touched the genitals of male athletes.
Jordan has vehemently denied the allegations that he knew something and didn’t report it.
“It’s false,” he said Friday on Fox News. “I mean, I never saw, never heard of, never was told about any type of abuse. If I had been, I would have dealt with it. Our coaching staff — we would have dealt with it.”
Jordan also denied hearing of any type of abuse in the wrestling locker room, even though several of the former wrestlers said they frequently joked about having to pull down their pants if they had to visit Strauss for any medical issue, even for unrelated reasons.
But in the same interview, Jordan also sought to draw a distinction between locker room talk and allegations of abuse.
“Conversations in the locker room are a lot different than someone coming up to you and saying there was some kind of abuse.” he said. “If there had been that, we would have dealt with it.”
Asked Tuesday whether he feels he’s handled his response to the allegations well, Jordan said, “I’ve told the truth.”
“Six coaches that coached with me, all kinds of wrestlers have come out with the same thing that I said,” he said. “And the reason they’ve done that is because it’s true.”
Pushed on whether he heard anything about Strauss being remotely inappropriate or generally creepy, Jordan said, “There is an investigation going on. If there’s people that have been harmed, obviously they deserve justice.”
Several of Jordan’s colleagues in the Freedom Caucus were among the first House Republicans to come to his defense, with at least a quarter of the three-dozen hard-line conservatives in the group issuing statements or tweets over the past week.
More Freedom Caucus members publicly defended Jordan as lawmakers returned to Washington on Tuesday. And during the cacucus’ weekly meeting that evening, members unanimously voted to support Jordan.
“I support Jim Jordan,” Massie tweeted Sunday. “He has tremendous integrity. I have faith in the American people and I believe most recognize a baseless smear campaign [sic] they see it. And no, I’m not even a member of the Freedom Caucus.”
Any House Republican asked about the allegations Tuesday came to Jordan’s defense.
“I trust Jim,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the GOP conference vice chairman. “Jim says it’s nothing.”
Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he hadn’t talked to Jordan but noted, “I tend to believe Jim Jordan is an honest person who wouldn’t accept that if it was happening around him.”
Fellow Ohio Republican Steve Stivers, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Jordan “honorable” and “truthful.”
“I don’t think he would make things up, but I want to make sure the truth comes out,” Stivers said, citing the university’s investigation.
Stivers went to Ohio State and his district is near the university. The school told him they hope to wrap up the investigation soon, but it’s not clear whether that will conclude with a definitive answer on whether Jordan knew about allegations of abuse, he said.
“I think they’re going to try to include as much information as they can on everything,” Stivers said.
McCarthy dismissed a request from outside watchdog groups for the Office of Congressional Ethics, which reviews complaints and refers cases to the House Ethics Committee, to launch an investigation into Jordan as politically motivated.
“If I look at the rules from Ethics, I don’t know how you go back 20 years and that that has anything to do with his job or not,” he said.
McCarthy noted that Jordan intends to cooperate fully with Ohio State’s investigation into Strauss.
While most House Republicans defended Jordan by saying the allegations do not align with his character, Jordan and some Freedom Caucus members raised suspicions about the origin of the allegations.
“I think the timing is suspect from when you think about how this whole story came together after the Rosenstein interview … with this whole talk about the speaker’s race,” Jordan said.
During a House Judiciary hearing June 28, Jordan had grilled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the Justice Department’s failure to fully comply with a congressional document request related to alleged FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The law firm Ohio State hired to conduct the investigation into Strauss has contracted Perkins Coie LLP, a firm the Democratic National Committee hired to help put together the dossier the FBI used to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“The timing of these allegations, coming 13 years after the doctor died, combined with the questionable background of the accusers, and involving the counsel for the DNC, makes one thing clear: these are mere political statements intended to smear a good man,” Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said in a statement.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert also raised the Perkins Coie connection in his statement defending Jordan.
“These former wrestlers were adults at the time they claim they were sexually abused by the Ohio State team doctor. … They specifically state they did not tell Jordan but instead say he should have known because there was talk around the locker room,” he said. “They waited over 20 years to make these allegations with the willing and very expensive assistance of Perkins Coie, a Washington, DC-based dirty tricks law firm.”
Jordan said in the Fox interview he doesn’t think there’s any conspiracy involving Perkins Coie, but said they used a nonexistent email address in trying to reach him for an interview for the Ohio State investigation.
“The same law firm that can find an ex-British spy to put together a dossier to go after President Trump can’t find the congressman’s email address, can’t get a hold of me, and then they tell the press, ‘We reached out to him. He didn’t respond.’ That is just complete bogus,” he said.
Jordan told reporters Tuesday that his office had been in touch with investigators earlier that day in an effort to schedule an interview.
“The truth is on our side,” he said.