WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Jordan is facing the kind of slowly percolating scandal that would bring down other politicians in other times.
Liberal bureaucrats embedded in the government — who are trying to bring down the president.
Jordan, a 54-year-old congressman 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 H. 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.”
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 J. Rosenstein, the man many Trump supporters hold responsible for the Russia 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.
Next week will be another big moment for Jordan: He will be front and center in joint House hearings with FBI agent Peter Strzok, the man in the middle of what some see as the federal law-enforcement plot to take down Trump.
Ahead of that moment, the president 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 told reporters 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 now 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 in calling out Jordan 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. “He doesn’t get to call the victims of systemic sexual abuse liars. He doesn’t get to act like he wasn’t in the sauna with us every day being subject to voyeurism.”
The allegations have cast a cloud over the congressman at a time when 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 announced he will retire at the end of the year.
Some of his backers have suggested that 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.”
Jordan’s supporters have tried to amass evidence of that conspiracy. One of the leading talking points, which Jordan referenced Friday night, is the choice of the investigative law firm retained by Ohio State in the Strauss matter. The firm, Perkins Coie, worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and helped to pay for a dossier of unconfirmed accusations linking the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence.
The Daily Caller has also encouraged its readers to question the accusers’ motivation and scrutinized their “sketchy history,” reporting that one of the accusers served an 18-month jail sentence for a fraud scheme.
Jordan has tried to discredit his accusers, especially DiSabato, and his office has sent statements to the press from figures in the wrestling world defending the Ohio Republican, including from the team’s former coach.
In one email, a former Ohio State wrestler’s widow condemned DiSabato as “vindictive and manipulative,” citing a dispute she had with him over a memorial fund set up in her husband’s name.
“I voice my truth, to defend the service of Jim Jordan — including his family — and all that they have given and stood for in this country,” the statement said. “I question the intent, the authenticity, the verity, that Mike DiSabato shares in ANY of his words or actions.”
Other Republicans have taken a cooler tone, either staying silent on the allegations or offering muted statements. “The university has rightfully initiated a full investigation into the matter,” a spokesman for Ryan said in a statement. “The speaker will await the findings of that inquiry.”
As Congress prepares to return to Capitol Hill next week, Jordan indicated Friday that he would continue to maintain his innocence.
“What bugs me the most,” he said, “is that these athletes who you spent so much time with are saying things that just are not true.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.