Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, faces four problems right now.
Investigators are trying to determine who knew what about alleged sexual abuse around the Ohio State wrestling program when the Congressman served as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes. Jordan’s not accused of inappropriate conduct. But multiple, former wrestlers assert that Jordan was aware of problems involving the late-Dr. Richard Strauss. The wrestlers accuse Jordan of turning a blind eye to potential abuse. Jordan contends he wasn’t aware of trouble.
In an exclusive interview with Fox’s Bret Baier, Jordan argues that “no one reported abuse to me. If they had, I would have dealt with it.”
So, here are the four issues for Jordan:
If Jordan truly wasn’t in the loop, how does one prove they didn’t know something 25 or 30 years ago? If sexual abuse was rampant in the Ohio State training rooms, why wasn’t Jordan aware as he served as assistant coach? Jordan may question the integrity of one accuser. But now there are others who make a persuasive case that Jordan knew something. Finally, what does this mean for Jordan on Capitol Hill?
Jordan’s said he “feels sorry” for those leveling charges against him now.
“I know they know the truth,” said Jordan of the men he formerly coached.
But compared to the other wrestlers, there’s no one for whom Jordan holds more contempt than the initial accuser, Mike DiSabato. Jordan’s strategy is to clearly discredit DiSabato.
“He has a vendetta against Ohio State. He lost a licensing agreement. He’s out to get Ohio State. Out to get our family. Threatening (former Ohio State linebacker) Chris Spielman’s lawyer. He’s got all sorts of lawsuits against him,” said Jordan on Fox.
Court documents reveal that DiSabato is accused of harassing Spielman, former Buckeye quarterbacks Mike Tomczak & Craig Krenzel and other Ohio State athletic figures.
In one email obtained by Fox, DiSabato writes to Jordan, former OSU head wrestling coach Russ Hellickson and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. In the message, DiSabato states he’s sent blind carbon copies of the missive to 250 former Ohio State athletes “WHO WERE RAPED and/or sexually prayed upon daily.”
Fox spoke briefly with DiSabato Thursday. When asked why he was writing Jordan, DiSabato replied “to help him realize that he needed to step forward and to lead. To cut through the BS at Ohio State.”
But the issue is this for Jordan: DiSabato may carry baggage. But there are several other wrestlers not named DiSabato who think highly of Jordan. They say the Congressman was aware of sexual misconduct and should speak up.
Jordan’s also gone on the offensive against the law firm conducting the inquiry into potential wrongdoing. Jordan criticized Perkins Coie as “Hillary Clinton’s law firm.” The Ohio Republican derided what appears to be a feeble effort of the firm to initially make contact with him.
“When I have one of these hearings in Congress, every liberal finds our number,” Jordan told Bret Baier.
Fox is told that Jordan will likely talk to the firm next week.
So it’s one thing for Jordan to stigmatize the tactics of Perkins Coie and sully their name with conservative bromides. That may energize some supporters to rally around Jordan at a time of crisis. But that brings us to Jordan’s fourth problem. How does this issue appear to fellow Members of Congress?
In the Fox interview, Jordan alluded to chatter in the Ohio State training facilities.
“Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than people coming up and talking about abuse,” said Jordan.
The line about the locker room jabbering caught the attention of several lawmakers with whom Fox spoke. The lawmakers, who asked that they not be identified, said Jordan appeared to open the door rather than seal it hermetically.
“Look, you’ve got to take Jim at his word. He has always been straightforward even when we disagreed on tactics,” said one senior House GOP source. “But were they talking about someone just being ‘creepy’ in the locker room or something more specific?”
One lawmaker suggested that lawmakers were “circling the wagons” and keeping mum about Jordan. There’s always a fear among lawmakers about lending support to someone facing a potential ethics problem – particularly on something as precarious as sexual abuse which may have involved student-athletes.
Lawmakers generally let their colleagues twist in the wind if the allegations are serious enough. That may not be fair, especially in a case like this where the facts are dubious at best. But it’s the icy reality of Capitol Hill.
Most lawmakers have been able to duck commenting on Jordan due to the July 4th Congressional recess.
“They can hide now,” said one GOP source about lawmakers not wanting to weigh-in on Jordan. “But they can’t run from you all (in the press corps) when we’re back next week.”
That’s where this is make or break for Jordan. The Ohio Republican is the chairman emeritus of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, weighing-in on important issues alongside current chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). The dark cloud hovering over Jordan could be a distraction for the Freedom Caucus as its members work on issues like immigration, border security and a looming government funding fight this fall.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., retires in January. Jordan’s recently made it clear he may run for Speaker or another top tier House Republican leadership post next year. But the Ohio State allegations could make it impossible for Jordan to advance in the GOP leadership hierarchy.
If Jordan wants to be Speaker, Republicans must maintain control of the House. But Jordan faces a numbers problem. One needs 218 votes in the 435 member House to become Speaker. Even if the GOP holds the House this fall, Republican numbers likely dwindle to somewhere between 220 and 230 seats. The math alone could certainly cost Jordan the necessary votes.
Here’s another scenario: Perhaps House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., or House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., advance up the ladder and Jordan runs for a lower tier leadership slot. The House Republican Conference votes on those positions, not the entire House. So, let’s say Republicans control the House with 225 seats. That means Jordan must win the backing of 113 Republican colleagues. Even those numbers may have worked against Jordan before the Ohio State allegations emerged.
Jordan’s political core always emanated from the 40-plus member Freedom Caucus. Political observers often wondered whether Jordan’s political influence extended much beyond that conservative nucleus which appreciates his rabble-rousing maneuvers. In other words, winning even a lower-level leadership contest may have been a stretch for Jordan, regardless of the questions about Ohio State.
All eyes will focus on Jordan as Congress returns to session next week.
“It’s one thing for rank and file members to say something about Jordan,” said one source. “What the Freedom Caucus says is more telling."
If Jordan loses the backing of the Freedom Caucus, he’s bereft of almost any political capital. And that could be fatal for Jim Jordan.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.