What did Jim Jordan know and when did he know it? Lots of people are asking this question about the six-term Ohio Republican congressman’s connection, if any, to a scandal that occurred long ago and far outside the confines of Congress. Some are seeking answers. On July 9, Norm Eisen and Fred Wertheimer, respectively, ethics czar for the Obama administration and president of the nonprofit Democracy 21, filed a request with the Office of Congressional Ethics to conduct a probe into whether Jordan, while as an assistant coach for the Ohio State University wrestling team during 1987-95, willfully ignored evidence of sexual misconduct. The request was prompted by recent statements by certain ex-wrestlers. Yet the accusations may be politically motivated, especially given that Jordan may become the next House Speaker.
James Daniel Jordan, now 54, has represented the 4th Congressional District of Ohio since the start of 2007 when he replaced the retiring Mike Oxley. A founder of the House Republican Conference’s Freedom Caucus, he has an Old School conviction that in politics, only the strong survive. “Politics has never been a place for sissies,” he once said in an interview. Neither is wrestling, which was the world of the alpha-looking, jut-jawed congressman, a native of Champaign County, Ohio until he entered politics. Jordan was a four-time state wrestling champion in high school, a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion at the University of Wisconsin, and, after getting his undergraduate degree (he later would earn a master’s and a law degree), an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. That’s where the story begins.
Jim Jordan was 23 when he became Ohio State wrestling assistant coach in 1987. According to recent allegations, he either was a participant in or an enabler of a long, dark episode of sexual predation. The claims revolve around Richard Strauss, a physician for the OSU wrestling team during July 1981-June 1995 and for the school’s sports teams generally during 1978-98. Dr. Strauss, who also served as a faculty member, allegedly engaged in multiple acts of sexual abuse against a large number of wrestlers. One of those athletes, Mike DiSabato, recently recalled an encounter: “He (Strauss) examined my genitalia in detail. There was no masturbation or anything, but he definitely looked it over and checked it out.” DiSabato insists that he was groped by Strauss dozens of times and that Jordan was fully aware of the doctor’s behavior. Another, unnamed ex-wrestler recently revealed a similar experience. “Strauss held my balls longer than normal,” the anonymous wrestler recalled. “He (Jordan) just snickered.” This individual spoke of another instance in which he entered the team wrestling room and observed a few athletes and Jordan “clumped together.” The wrestler remembered “something to the effect of his (Strauss’) hands are cold as s**t; he checked out every hair on my ball.” Jordan allegedly replied, “I have nothing to do with this,” and walked away.
Dr. Richard Strauss’ reign of terror (or error, to look at it another way) ended in 1995 when Ohio State wrestling head coach Russ Hellickson barred him from the locker room. According to the unnamed wrestler quoted above, “When they brought it to Russ, he (Strauss) was dismissed from being around the wrestling team.” Strauss isn’t around anymore to express his thoughts; he committed suicide in 2005. But his legacy, such as it is, lives on. Last Friday, the Associated Press reported that more than 100 former students have provided first-hand accounts of Strauss’ sexual abuse.
Jim Jordan, however, is still alive. And he repeatedly has denied any knowledge of sexually inappropriate behavior. “I never saw, never heard of, never was told about any type of abuse,” he told Fox News’ Bret Baier on July 6. “If I had been, I would have dealt with it.” Former head coach Hellickson, along with five other former OSU coaches, recently released this joint statement in support of the congressman:
What has been said about Jim Jordan is absolutely wrong. We all worked on the wrestling coaching staff during Jim’s tenure at The Ohio State University. None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers. The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.
One of Jordan’s House colleagues, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., is also in his corner. Gohmert asserts that the allegations don’t “pass the smell test.” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., calls the accusations “a complete fabrication.” And President Donald Trump believes Jordan’s account “100 percent.”
At the same time, there are too many accusers with too many details to ignore. And evidence presented by former wrestler Mike DiSabato, at least on the surface, invites scrutiny. DiSabato currently runs a company called Combat Athlete Coalition, which represents the collective interests of former college athletes on compensation and safety issues. This past June, the company produced a video interview with former coach Russ Hellickson and (appearing separately) three former OSU students, two of them wrestlers, asserting that Dr. Strauss sexually abused them. In the video, Hellickson states that he confronted Dr. Strauss about his alleged physical contact with the wrestlers. “I told him one time,” said Hellickson, “‘Doctor you’re too much hands on,’ and he (Strauss) just said, ‘Oh, I’m being thorough.’” The former coach also states in the video that he had expressed his concerns over Dr. Strauss showering with the wrestlers for up to an hour at a time, and that this practice made the team nervous.
As for DiSabato, he said it was a running joke among his teammates that no matter what a wrestler’s physical ailment, Dr. Strauss always would examine his genitals. In one instance, an unnamed wrestler went into Strauss’ office complaining of heartburn and was told to lie on the table. Strauss then removed his pants – a rather unorthodox way of treating heartburn, to say the least. Another former OSU wrestler, Dunyasha Yetts, says Jordan had to have known about all this. “For God’s sake, Strauss’ locker was right next to Jordan’s,” said Yetts. “Jordan even said he’d kill him if he tried anything with him.”
Whether or not Richard Strauss’ eventual suicide in 2005 was related to revelations of his sexual behavior may never be known. But given the level of detail, these allegations must be taken seriously. And if true, they point to Strauss as a disgraceful sexual predator, the Jerry Sandusky of NCAA wrestling. The issue before the public today is how many people in a position of authority, including future Congressman Jim Jordan, knew about this behavior but chose not to act. The Ohio State University administration, for one, is curious. That’s why it has hired Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie, which has a large Washington, D.C. presence, to investigate claims about Strauss by former athletes on 14 OSU sports teams. By Fourth of July weekend, the ongoing probe, which began in April, had interviewed more than 150 people. If the Office of Congressional Ethics gives a green light to the request by Norm Eisen and Fred Wertheimer to investigate Rep. Jordan, this would expand the probe further.
What Congressman Jim Jordan knew is an issue separate from whether he broke the law. But in the court of public opinion, like in the court of criminal law, the standard of proof of guilt is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And the case against Jordan leaves substantial room for doubt. Indeed, the primary motive for shining a spotlight on him may be political ambition rather than a desire to uncover the truth. Jordan, one must understand, is an unabashed supporter of President Trump and a possible contender to replace the retiring Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., as House Speaker next January. He has taken a prominent role in opposing the costly mandates of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and in interrogating Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the person who appointed Robert Mueller last May as special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian government meddling on behalf of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. “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,” said Jordan in his Fox News interview.
Jordan’s principal accuser, Mike DiSabato, might be possessed of such a motive. Starting in March, he blitzed Rep. Jordan with a series of emails accusing him of covering up Dr. Strauss’ crimes. According to various news sources, Jordan forwarded the messages to his chief of staff, Kevin Eichinger, and his personal attorney. One of DiSabato’s emails, obtained by Fox News, suggests an ulterior motive. It read: “Reverend James – the ‘squeaky clean’ U.S. Congressman from Urbana (Ohio), who does not recall systemic sex abuse and has never heard agent orange (i.e., President Trump) tell a lie and wants to be speaker of the house despite his apparent lack of knowledge of the systemic sex abuse.” U.S. Capitol Police currently are reviewing these emails.
Aside from political motivations, Mike DiSabato has serious ethical issues. Recently the widow of a marine killed in combat in Iraq back in 2005 accused DiSabato of intimidating her into raising money for a new charity to help Ohio-based families of fallen soldiers. The ostensible nonprofit memorial fund had been named after a former teammate, Ray Mendoza. The widow, Karen Mendoza, stated in a phone interview with The Daily Caller, “I question the intent, the authenticity, the veracity, that Mike DiSabato shares in any of his words or actions.” She had reason to feel this way. DiSabato never registered his charity with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Worse, his fundraising tactics resembled those of a shakedown artist. “As a military widow,” said Mrs. Mendoza, “I was bullied by a vindictive and manipulative Mike DiSabato.” She described his behavior as “predatory,” adding that he has “hijacked” the reputation of Rep. Jordan to settle old scores with Ohio State University (back in 2008 DiSabato had sued the university over an allegedly unlawful termination of a sports merchandising contract). DiSabato also may have engaged in fraud. Instead of using funds set aside for the memorial fund, asserted the widow, he applied them toward a martial arts startup venture. The case resulted in a cease-and-desist order against DiSabato. In a separate case, DiSabato this past February was arrested and charged with telephone harassment against Bret Adams, an attorney for retired all-pro NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, another Ohio State Buckeye alumnus. Two months later, in April, Adams sued DiSabato for defamation of character. In other words, Mike DiSabato is a person with very little credibility.
Jordan’s other main accuser, Dunyasha Yetts, isn’t just ethically-challenged. He’s also a convicted felon. For a while around two decades ago, Yetts operated an investment firm, World Wide Sports, through which he managed the finances of professional athletes. In practice, he engaged in financial mismanagement. He eventually pleaded guilty in federal court to mail fraud and served 18 months in prison beginning in 2007 for fleecing investors out of a combined $1.8 million. The prime victim was former NFL star cornerback Antoine Winfield, who in college had been a consensus all-American at Ohio State. After convincing Winfield to invest his 1999 NFL signing bonus with World Wide Sports, Yetts proceeded to divert the money, about $1.3 million worth, toward personal expenditures such as cars, country club memberships, student loan payments and credit card payments. Surely this was no way to treat a fellow Buckeye! Mr. Yetts also has a penchant for filing what appear to be frivolous lawsuits. According to The Daily Caller, Yetts filed suit this May against U.S. Well Services, a Houston-based hydraulic fracking company, on the basis of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. He is claiming that one of its supervisors had made sexually suggestive overtures toward him and that he had been overlooked for a promotion because he is black. These suits might be justified. But given his prior history, he should be suspected of scamming the company.
Perkins Coie, the litigation shop hired by Ohio State University to get to the bottom of the accusations against the late Dr. Richard Strauss, might not be such a dedicated seeker of truth either. A Perkins Coie partner, Marc Elias, hired a company, Fusion GPS, in April 2016 to assist the firm in its representation of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. As part of its opposition research against her general election opponent, Donald Trump, Fusion GPS in turn hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to put together a fake dossier on Trump. Last October, the New York Times summarized Steele’s allegations this way: “Mr. Steele produced a series of memos that alleged a broad conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election on behalf of Mr. Trump. The memos also contained unsubstantiated accounts of encounters between Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes, and real estate deals that were intended as bribes.” The involvement by Perkins Coie was publicly confirmed in a letter filed in court by the firm’s managing partner, Matthew Gehringer.
While these factors, in and of themselves, don’t let Jim Jordan off the hook, they strongly suggest that his accusers have political motivations apart from the material facts of the case. And the spate of negative coverage of him by news outlets such as Slate, Rolling Stone and theatlantic.com leads one to believe that the congressman stands today before the court of public opinion not because of his behavior of 25 to 30 years ago, but because of his current political convictions and ambitions. The crimes of the late Dr. Richard Strauss almost indisputably were real. But that doesn’t automatically make Jim Jordan an accomplice.
Postscript: On May 17, 2019, the Perkins Coie law firm released its final report. And the conclusion, as if there was any doubt, was that Richard Strauss for years had engaged in egregious sexual misconduct against Ohio State University athletes. Dr. Strauss, the report concluded, sexually abused at least 177 students, most of them athletes across 15 sports. The offenses occurred during 1979 to 1996, the year he was suspended. Moreover, school officials “had knowledge” of his behavior yet failed to take appropriate action. Based on extensive victim testimony, Perkins Coie noted, “Strauss routinely performed excessive, and seemingly medically unnecessary, genital exams, regardless of the medical condition the student-patients presented.”
Campus officials were contrite upon receiving the report. “On behalf of the university, we offer our profound regret and sincere apologies to each person who endured Strauss’ abuse,” wrote Ohio State President Michael V. Drake in a prepared message. The report does not mention Rep. Jim Jordan by name, much less cite his alleged complicity in Dr. Strauss’ crimes. Yet Mike DiSabato stated for the record that Jordan was fully aware of the situation. He looks even less credible now than he did a year ago.