WASHINGTON — Two congressional watchdogs early Monday called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to conduct a preliminary inquiry into reports that U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan ignored complaints of sexual harassment by a former doctor for Ohio State’s wrestling team.
In the complaint, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer and former White House chief ethics lawyer Norman Eisen say the Urbana Republican violated a clause in House rules requiring members of the House to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.”
The complaint argues that “there is a direct and irreconcilable conflict between the public statements made by seven former Ohio State student wrestlers that Rep. Jordan knew wrestling team members were being sexually abused by the team doctor, and Rep. Jordan’s denial that he had any knowledge of the abuses.”
The watchdogs — Eisen was an ethics lawyer for the Obama administration — say that if the accounts are true and Jordan is lying, then the House Ethics Committee should investigate.
“Either seven former student wrestlers who were under the supervision of Rep. Jordan are all lying or Rep. Jordan is lying,” said Wertheimer. “If Rep. Jordan is lying to cover up his failure to protect student wrestlers from sexual abuse, the House must hold Rep. Jordan accountable for his lies.”
Eisen already has dubbed the case Wrestlegate.
That complaint came on the same day that eight former OSU wrestling coaches sent out statements in support of Jordan. The group, which included former head coach Russ Hellickson and five former assistant coaches, said that “what has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong.”
“None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers,” their group statement said. “The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.”
The group also included former assistant coaches Dave Ruckman, Rex Holman, Ken Chertow, Myron Kharchilava and Kenny Ramsey Jr. as well as Lee Kemp, a former OSU assistant coach who had previously sent out a statement of support, and former volunteer assistant coach John Dougherty. Hellickson also sent out an earlier statement defending Jordan.
Hellickson acknowledged in an earlier video circulated by Strauss’ accusers that Strauss was “too hands-on” with the wrestlers he treated. In that video, Hellickson said he complained to Strauss about the doctor’s behavior, and Strauss defended himself as being thorough. Hellickson has not returned emails seeking comment, but defended Jordan in a statement.
Their statement came two days after former wrestler David Range verified earlier reports that Jordan knew about accusations about Strauss. Range spoke to the Washington Post this weekend.
“Jordan definitely knew that these things were happening - yes, most definitely,” Range told the Post. “It was there. He knew about it because it was an everyday occurrence. … Everybody joked about it and talked about it all the time.”
The ethics complaint stems from allegations that erupted July 3, when NBC News first reported that three former members of the Ohio State wrestling team told Jordan about their concerns about the team’s doctor, Richard Strauss, ogling and inappropriately touching them during physical examinations. Since then, four more wrestlers have made similar reports to media outlets. Two of those wrestlers — Michael DiSabato and Shawn Dailey — confirmed those reports to The Dispatch. Jordan has vigorously and consistently denied the allegations, saying if he had known about abuse, he would have reported it.
But other wrestlers reached by The Dispatch disputed the idea that Jordan knew, or said while there was open joking about Strauss’ behavior, that jokes do not equal reports of abuse. And while the federal government issued guidance in 2001 that required “responsible adults” to report abuse, that guidance did not exist from 1986 to 1994, when Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State — though state law at the time required any suspicion of abuse to a person under 18 be reported.
“Everyone is saying, ‘Everyone knew,’” said George Pardos, a former OSU wrestler who has come to Jordan’s defense. “No, everybody didn’t know. If everybody didn’t know, the reaction would be a lot different.” He questioned why the focus has been on wrestling, noting that OSU is investigating abuse in other sports, and said while he cannot speak for all former OSU wrestlers, he never saw inappropriate behavior from Strauss and never heard of any during his time at the school.
Others, including Jordan, have questioned the credibility of DiSabato, the first and most public former wrestler to make the allegations against Strauss and Jordan. They say DiSabato has a long-running beef with Ohio State University over the loss of his right to license merchandise and say he is pulling Jordan into the scandal in order to publicize the scandal to the detriment of Ohio State. DiSabato has said the attacks are an example of victim blaming.
Much of the attention has focused on Jordan, while little, meanwhile, has focused on former athletic directors and others who may have gotten reports about the doctor.
Andy Geiger, whose tenure overlapped Jordan’s by only a year in the mid-1990s, told the Post he worked with Hellickson to move the wrestlers out of Larkins Hall because of widespread complaints about voyeurism in the showers. Larkins was home to intramural activities as well as the wrestling team, which moved to the Steelwood Athletic Training Facility.
“I was concerned that we not have harassment on either side — that the wrestlers be left alone and feel secure and not harassed or observed or approached,” Geiger told The Post, recalling his desire to protect wrestlers who were “feeling uncomfortable.” “t the same time, I didn’t want (the athletes) to retaliate or make a mistake they would regret.”
A law firm overseeing the probe for Ohio State has interviewed more than 150 officials and witnesses so far, with former athletes from 14 Ohio State sports reporting abuse by Strauss. Strauss’ family, meanwhile, issued a statement this weekend saying they are “fully cooperating” with the investigation into complaints from the “alleged victims.”
One former wrestler who said Jordan knew of the concerns — Mark Coleman — was also a former assistant wrestling coach. He has not been available for comment to The Dispatch, but reported being inappropriately groped by Strauss as a wrestler at OSU. However, Coleman told the Wall Street Journal of Jordan, “there’s no way unless he’s got dementia or something that he’s got no recollection of what was going on at Ohio State.” It’s unclear whether Coleman reported the abuse to Ohio State.