Politics

Jim Rat

There’s no middle ground on Ohio State. If the wrestlers aren’t lying, then Jim Jordan is.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, as seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, as seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The controversy over Rep. Jim Jordan’s role at Ohio State University began with a question about events long ago: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Jordan was OSU’s assistant wrestling coach, did he know that the team doctor, Richard Strauss, was sexually groping student wrestlers? But Jordan’s response to the controversy has raised a new question: Is he lying about the testimony and character of the alleged victims?

Some of Jordan’s defenders want a middle ground. They speculate that while he may have heard about the groping while he was at OSU, he didn’t recognize it as abuse. But on Friday, in a Fox News interview with Bret Baier, Jordan ruled out that explanation:

Baier: So did you hear it in the locker room?

Jordan: No, no, no. No type of abuse. We did not hear that. ’Cause if we had, we would have dealt with it.

Baier: Well, was there something, something short of abuse, that may be considered abuse now in this current time?

Jordan: Did not. Did not.

“That’s the part that bugs me the most,” Jordan went on. He lamented that the former wrestlers for whom he had done so much were lying about him. “They know what they’re saying is not accurate,” he told Baier. “I know they know what they’re saying is not true. I know they know that. And they’re saying it anyway.”

This is no longer a negotiable difference of 30-year-old perceptions. It’s a binary dispute. Either the ex-wrestlers are lying about Jordan, or he’s lying about them. He’s also accusing them of political motives. “What is driving these guys to say this now?” Baier asked. “The timing is suspect,” Jordan replied, citing his recent interrogation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Jordan added that the law firm in charge of OSU’s sexual abuse investigation, Perkins Coie, was “Hillary Clinton’s law firm,” the same firm that found “an ex-British spy to put together a dossier to go after President Trump.”

Jordan attacks the credibility of two former OSU wrestlers, Mike DiSabato and Dunyasha Yetts, who say they saw Jordan witness or acknowledge Strauss’ inappropriate behavior. Jordan notes that Yetts served time for mail fraud and that DiSabato was recently arrested for telephone harassment of a sports agent. But these are just the two easiest targets among multiple witnesses who agree on what happened at OSU. A third former wrestler, Shawn Dailey, says Jordan participated in conversations about Strauss’ abuse. A fourth, David Range, confirms that Jordan “was present during group conversations in the locker room about Strauss’s behavior,” according to the Washington Post. A fifth, Mark Coleman, agrees that Jordan knew. A sixth, who spoke anonymously to CNN, recalls telling Jordan that Strauss “held my balls longer than normal” during an exam. He says Jordan, in reply, “just snickered.” The same former student describes an incident in which Jordan responded to a report of Strauss’s behavior by saying “I have nothing to do with this” and walking away.

By Jordan’s account, all of these men are lying. Referring to Coleman and Dailey, the congressman told Baier: “It’s not true what they said about me. … I feel sorry for Mark Coleman.” In particular, Jordan disputed two stories. One is that Yetts went to see Strauss for a thumb injury, that Strauss told him to pull down his shorts, and that Yetts complained to Jordan about it. Dailey recalls the details: “Dunyasha comes back and tells Jimmy, ‘Seriously, why do I have to pull down my pants for a thumb injury?’ Jimmy said something to the extent of, ‘If he tried that with me, I would kill him.’ ” Jordan insists this never happened. “Not true,” he told Baier.

The other story, reported by Politico, is that “a half-dozen ex-wrestlers,” by their account, “were regularly harassed in their training facility” by university staff or other students, and that one former wrestler “saw Jordan yell at male voyeurs to get out of the sauna.” According to the Post, Andy Geiger, OSU’s former athletic director, has confirmed that he worked with OSU’s then-wrestling coach, Russ Hellickson, to move the wrestlers out of their training facility “because of complaints about voyeurism in the showers.” Jordan says he knew nothing about it. “Never saw any type of abuse there,” he told Baier.

Jordan’s denials don’t even square with his defenders’ testimony. Hellickson is on video admitting that Strauss was “too hands on” with students. Jude Skove, an ex-wrestler who has been speaking out in Jordan’s defense, confirms that Strauss took two showers a day with students, “was known to be a little weird,” and “touched you everywhere, doing the cough thing.” Michael Alf, another former wrestler, says that when Jordan alluded to locker-room conversations in his interview with Baier, the congressman must have been referring to the well-known stories among wrestlers about Strauss telling them to “drop your pants.” Even coaches from other schools noticed and talked about Strauss’ behavior.

Alf is mystified by Jordan’s stonewalling. He tells USA Today: “We don’t blame Jimmy, but the guys are saying, ‘Jim, why don’t you just tell that you heard about this as it was going along? We know you were young, and you didn’t put it together.’ ”

Jordan could have said that. Instead, he attacked the honesty and motives of his former wrestlers. And his colleagues are following his lead. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, citing Jordan’s denial, called the wrestlers’ claims “complete fabrication.” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida dismissed their “baseless” allegations as “a deliberate attempt to knock the best oversight member of Congress off his game” as Congress confronts liberal bias in the FBI. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert said the former wrestlers “were adults at the time they claim they were sexually abused,” and that they may have received “payments” in exchange for their “character assassination” of Jordan.

Jordan has made his choice. He rejects the possibility that both he and his former wrestlers are telling the truth as they understand it. Coleman, Dailey, DiSabato, Range, Yetts, and all the other ex-wrestlers who have spoken to reporters in the last week must be lying. In addition, OSU’s former athletic director, its former wrestling coach, and others who have spoken out in Jordan’s defense must be mistaken in their recollections of what happened. The only other possibility is that Jordan himself is lying. Not 30 years ago, but right now.