Top House Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, are publicly supporting Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as the powerful conservative leader faces allegations that he failed to act on reports of sexual abuse while serving as a college wrestling coach more than two decades ago.
Ryan, R-Wis., on Wednesday called Jordan a "friend" in comments to reporters and called for a complete investigation of the underlying abuse allegations.
"Jim Jordan is a friend of mine," he said. "We haven't always agreed with each other over the years. But I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of honesty and a man of integrity."
Jordan, 54, is an outspoken leader of the House's hard-right faction. He co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, which has pushed GOP leader to adopt a more confrontational approach, and has been an aggressive interrogator of government officials in his role as a member of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.
The words of support from Ryan — as well as from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. - could help Jordan weather the scrutiny of his actions in the late '80s into the early '90s when he was a young assistant coach at Ohio State University.
Two former Ohio State wrestlers have come forward to say that they told Jordan that a team doctor, Richard Strauss, was leering at male athletes in locker rooms and improperly touching them during medical exams. At least five others have told The Washington Post and other news organizations that Strauss' behavior was widely discussed within the wrestling program and that Jordan must have known about it.
Since the wrestlers came forward earlier this month, Jordan has maintained that he knew nothing about Strauss's alleged misdeed. Strauss died in 2005.
Several fellow coaches and wrestlers have come to Jordan's defense in recent days, with the aid of a conservative crisis communications firm. President Donald Trump has also offered support for Jordan, who has been one of his most loyal congressional supporters.
Speaking to reporters briefly on Wednesday, Jordan thanked Trump as well as the former colleagues and wrestlers who have spoken on his behalf. "The reason I think they're all supporting me is because they know it's the truth," he said.
Jordan said he intended to sit down "real soon" with lawyers who are investigating Strauss's conduct during his time on the Ohio State faculty from 1978 to 1998: "We're trying to do it as soon as we can."
In an interview with Fox News last week, Jordan criticized the law firm conducting the Strauss probe, Perkins Coie, for failing to make a serious effort to contact him and for the firm's long-standing ties to the Democratic Party. But on Wednesday, he declined to reiterate those concerns.
"The discussions we've had with the individuals doing the interview we think have been good, and we're going to sit down and do the interview," he said.
While Jordan has long been an influential leader among conservatives, his profile has been raised since Ryan announced his retirement in April. That touched off a contest to become the next top House Republican leader, and Jordan said he would consider running for the position.
The sitting No. 2 and No. 3 leaders, both of whom are jockeying to move up the ladder themselves, also gave Jordan their backing this week.
"I believe Jim when he says if faced with charges of abuse, he absolutely would have acted," McCarthy said in a statement.
Said Scalise, "I have always known Jim Jordan to be honest, and I'm confident he would stand up for his athletes, just like he's always stood up for what's right."
Jordan has gotten even more enthusiastic support from his colleagues in the Freedom Caucus. One member, Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., stood up inside a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Wednesday morning to denounce the allegations against Jordan.
In an interview on Tuesday, Palmer suggested that those accusing Jordan of turning a blind eye had political or financial motivations - and he said he did not expect Jordan to retreat from his high-profile role in pending congressional investigations into the FBI and Justice Department.
"I don't see Jim Jordan stepping back from anything," he said. "He is one tenacious guy. He's got the mentality of a wrestler. It's hand-to-hand combat."