By KANTELE FRANKO and KEVIN FREKING
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A watchdog group and a former special counsel to President Barack Obama are seeking an ethics review of U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan even as former colleagues back his statements that he didn’t know about sexual abuse of wrestlers while coaching at Ohio State University.
Some ex-wrestlers from the late 1980s and early 1990s say they were groped by team doctor Richard Strauss and that Jordan knew then about the alleged abuse as an assistant coach. Jordan, founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus and potential contender for House speaker, denies that and has said he and other coaches would have reported any alleged abuse brought to their attention.
The group Democracy 21 and former White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen want to know whether the Ohio Republican made false statements about that. The request Monday to the Office of Congressional Ethics said questions of dishonesty can bring discredit to the House in violation of House rules.
Several former wrestlers have said in recent days that Jordan had to have known of the abuse, based on numerous group conversations at the time.
But on Monday, six former Ohio State wrestling coaches defended Jordan in a joint statement that said none of them was aware of abuse of wrestlers.
“The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up,” said the statement from former head coach Russ Hellickson and former assistant coaches Dave Ruckman, Rex Holman, Ken Chertow, Myron Kharchilava and Kenny Ramsey Jr.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether they, like Jordan, plan to talk with the independent investigators from Seattle-based Perkins Coie who are reviewing the allegations against the now-dead doctor and what, if anything, the university knew about the allegations.
Holman said he hasn’t been interviewed, and he wouldn’t address whether he’ll speak with investigators. A spokeswoman who released the ex-coaches’ statement didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the others plan to talk to investigators.
In an individual statement provided along with the group comment, Hellickson repeated a remark he first released last week that appears to offer a more nuanced view of the allegations: “At no time while Jim Jordan was a coach with me at Ohio State did either of us ignore abuse of our wrestlers.” Hellickson has not returned messages left by The Associated Press.
Jordan told Fox News Friday night that “conversations in a locker room are a lot different than people coming up and talking about abuse.”
He said no one ever reported abuse to him, and if they had, “I would have dealt with it.”
Andy Geiger, a former Ohio State athletic director, said Monday he doesn’t recall any complaints during his tenure about a team doctor’s alleged sexual misconduct with athletes. Geiger told the AP in a phone interview he does recall some concerns about voyeurism in the showers at the university’s Larkins Hall but nothing specifically involving the doctor.
Geiger, 79, who now lives near Seattle, also said he doesn’t remember being told about Strauss’ alleged abuse but it could have happened.
Geiger said he doesn’t remember Strauss well.
Support for Jordan flowed in from Capitol Hill as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the congressman “absolutely would have acted” had he known about the alleged abuse.
Earlier Monday, GOP Whip Steve Scalise backed Jordan, as did key conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus. McCarthy, Scalise and Jordan are all eyeing House leadership runs.
Ohio State has said the allegations raised so far involve men from 14 sports as well as Strauss’ work for student health services and at his off-campus medical clinic.
Strauss died in 2005, and it was ruled a suicide.
His family was shocked to learn of the allegations from news reports and is cooperating with the school’s independent investigation, according to a family statement over the weekend.
Associated Press Writer Mitch Stacy in Columbus contributed to this report. Freking reported from Washington.