Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan has the kind of supporters who do not lose faith easily, and they are defending the conservative powerhouse in the sex-abuse scandal.
WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Jordan is facing the kind of slowly percolating scandal that would bring down other politicians in other times, as new accusers step forward by the day to say the wrestling-coach-turned-politician was aware of sexual misconduct at Ohio State University but did nothing to stop it.
But like the man Jordan doggedly supports, President Donald Trump, the Ohio Republican has the kind of supporters who do not lose faith easily, and they are defending the conservative powerhouse, saying he is the victim of the same “deep state” conspirators — liberal bureaucrats embedded in the government — who are trying to bring down the president.
Jordan, 54, who is in his sixth term, was defiant Friday night on Fox News, in his first extended response to the emerging charges. He disparaged some of the former college wrestlers who have come forward to say he knew of allegations that the team doctor, Richard Strauss, had fondled them. He said he could not explain why other more friendly wrestlers had leveled similar charges.
“I never saw, never heard of, never was told about any kind of abuse,” said Jordan, whose in-your-face brand of politics has made him the choice for speaker of the House by an array of conservative groups. “If I did, I would have dealt with it. A good coach puts the interests of his student-athletes first.”
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When the show’s host, Bret Baier, read a quotation by a former Ohio State wrestler and Ultimate Fighting Championship star, Mark Coleman, that Jordan would have to have dementia to have forgotten what happened, the congressman offered little explanation. “I feel sorry for him,” he said of Coleman. “It’s just not accurate.”
Instead, Jordan continued to fan conspiracy theories connecting the emergence of the charges to his aggressive questioning last month of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man many Trump supporters hold responsible for the Russia election-meddling investigation.
“I think the timing is suspect when you think about how this whole story came together after the Rosenstein hearing and the speaker’s race,” he said.
The president has weighed in with his unqualified support. “Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington,” Trump said Thursday. “I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind.”
Jordan served as an assistant coach on the Ohio State wrestling team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during which time Strauss is accused of showering with athletes and touching them inappropriately. The university announced in April it had begun investigating the allegations against the doctor, who killed himself in 2005.
Coleman and four other wrestlers have said Jordan was aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it. Another former Ohio State wrestler, Mike Schyck, said in an interview Friday that he and other former team members planned to “collectively say some things together,” adding that the scandal is not about Jordan.
But even as more wrestlers step forward, Jordan’s base has mounted a defense. The conservative news media has questioned the motives and truthfulness of his accusers. One of those accusers, Mike DiSabato, scoffed at suggestions that his motivation was political or part of a personal vendetta.
“There were two choices for Jim when he was asked about this situation: He could have told the truth that he saw it, he was there, he was in the showers and saunas with us,” DiSabato said. “He could have told the truth and stood with us, or he could have played politics.”
DiSabato said he was saddened by the congressman’s response.
“I’m sorry, I love Jim Jordan, but he doesn’t get to call me a liar to the entire world,” DiSabato said.
The allegations have cast a cloud over the congressman at a time he is ascendant. Jordan has emerged as one of the president’s staunchest defenders, helping to lead a Republican counterinvestigation of FBI and Justice Department officials who are looking into potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. A founder of the House Freedom Caucus, Jordan has also been floated as a possible successor to Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has said he will retire at the end of the year.
Some of his backers have suggested Jordan’s accusers are also part of a “deep state” conspiracy to derail his political future.
“Jim Jordan goes against the powerful interests at the FBI & deep state to expose them & hold them accountable for their crimes,” tweeted Mike Tokes, a founder of The New Right, a conservative political organization. “Now all of a sudden there is a concentrated smear campaign against him in a deliberate attempt to discredit his work? The American people know better.”