A concerted effort is underway to defend Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) against claims that he failed to take action against alleged serial sexual abuse involving an Ohio State University athletic doctor and scores of student-athletes.
At least seven former Ohio State wrestlers have alleged that Jordan knew about the abuse while working as an assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1994 and did nothing to stop it.
NBC News and several other national news outlets began reporting on the accusations against Jordan, co-founder of the powerful House Freedom Caucus, last week. Since then, Jordan’s allies have aggressively defended him against what they see as a smear campaign, and have tried to discredit his accusers.
Some, including Jordan himself, have floated conspiracy theories questioning the timing of the allegations and claiming they originate from “the Deep State.”
In his first public comments on the allegations against Jordan, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday praised the congressman, who is seen as his possible successor. But he also mentioned the university’s ongoing investigation.
“I’ve always known Jim Jordan to be a man of honor and a man of integrity. I also want to make sure that Ohio State conducts the review of this doctor and what he did,” Ryan said at a press conference. “I’m glad Jim is supporting that review.”
Several of Jordan’s House colleagues have defended Jordan this week, including Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
After meeting Tuesday night, the Freedom Caucus issued a statement hailing Jordan as “a man of integrity.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) minimized the reports of abuse by comparing them to the serial sexual abuse of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to prison for groping and assaulting young Olympic gymnasts.
“Unlike the Olympians who were minor children at the time they were abused, these former wrestlers were adults at the time they claim they were sexually abused by the Ohio State team doctor,” he said Monday in a statement.
Former coaches and wrestlers who worked with Jordan at the university have also issued statements this week to support the congressman. Jordan thanked the wrestlers in a tweet Tuesday.
Jordan, an ally of President Donald Trump, also received support from the president last week.
“I don’t believe them at all,” Trump told reporters, in reference to the accusers. “I believe him. I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind.”
The website standwithjimjordan.com launched Monday, and features some of these statements and testimonials, as well as links to articles from right-wing news sites. The site seems to have originated from Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a D.C.-area public relations firm that told NBC News last week that it had offered to defend Jordan.
The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Jordan has repeatedly denied claims that he knew about the abuse, saying there is a difference between abuse and “conversations in a locker room.”
“I never saw, never heard of, never told of any kind of abuse,” he said Friday in a Fox News interview. “Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than people coming up and talking about abuse. No one ever reported any abuse to me. If they had, I would have dealt with it.”
Jordan reiterated his denials on Wednesday morning.
“I’m telling the truth,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Look, I stood up to the speaker of the House from my home state. I stood up to the IRS, and I’ve stood up to the FBI. To think that I would not stand up for my athletes is ridiculous.”
Ohio State University officials have been investigating the abuse claims against the doctor, Richard Strauss, since April. Former student-athletes have said Strauss, who died in 2005, groped them and/or showered with them while they were under his medical treatment. Athletes from 14 different sports have reported Strauss for misconduct, according to the university.
Former wrestler Mike DiSabato, who first brought Strauss’ alleged abuse to Ohio State’s attention, has said that other former athletes have recently come forward because they were inspired by Nassar’s accusers. He told the university’s investigators that Strauss may have sexually abused as many as 2,000 athletes.
This story has been updated with a statement from the House Freedom Caucus and comments from Jordan and Ryan.