A news report on Tuesday accusing Representative Jim Jordan of ignoring accusations of sexual abuse as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University has left a cloud over the powerful congressman as conservative activists put him forward as potentially the next speaker of the House.
The university announced in April that it had started an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct against a former team physician, Dr. Richard Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
The report, by NBC News, said that three former wrestlers said it was commonly known that Dr. Strauss showered with students and touched them inappropriately during appointments, and that Mr. Jordan, an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986 to 1994, must have known about the abuse. Mr. Jordan, a Republican, has denied that.
“Jim knew this — there’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Michael DiSabato, one of the former wrestlers named in the NBC account, said Tuesday in an interview. “It boggles my mind that he would take the position that he’s taken.”
A spokesman for Mr. Jordan, a founder of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus who represents a solidly Republican district in Ohio, said the congressman was unaware of any abuse.
“Congressman Jordan never saw any abuse, never heard about any abuse and never had any abuse reported to him during his time as a coach at Ohio State,” the spokesman, Ian Fury, said in a statement. “He has not been contacted by investigators about the matter but will assist them in any way they ask because, if what is alleged is true, the victims deserve a full investigation and justice.”
Doug Andres, a spokesman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, said: “These are serious allegations and issues. The university has rightfully initiated a full investigation into the matter. The speaker will await the findings of that inquiry.”
Mr. Jordan is one of the most prominent conservatives in Congress. With Mr. Ryan retiring at the end of the year, Mr. Jordan was likely to emerge as an important figure as House Republicans consider their next leader. Conservative groups have urged him to run for speaker, and although his elevation to that post was considered unlikely, he and other Freedom Caucus members were expected to influence the selection of Mr. Ryan’s successor.
More immediately, Mr. Jordan has stepped forward as one of President Trump’s most visible, aggressive and undaunted defenders in the House, helping lead a Republican counterinvestigation of those F.B.I. and Justice Department officials who are investigating potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference efforts.
The law firm serving as legal counsel for Ohio State in the Strauss matter said Tuesday in a statement that investigators it hired at a different law firm, Perkins Coie, had contacted Mr. Jordan’s office by email and phone. Perkins Coie also worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee — and helped pay for a dossier of unconfirmed accusations linking the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence.
“To date, Representative Jordan has not responded to those requests, but we understand from public statements issued on his behalf today that Representative Jordan is willing to talk to the investigative team,” the statement said. “The investigative team is continuing its efforts to schedule an interview with Representative Jordan, as well as other individuals with potential knowledge relating to the allegations.”
Mr. DiSabato said the abuse perpetrated by the convicted former Olympics gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar had prompted him to alert Ohio State about Dr. Strauss in late March.
Before meeting with university officials, he said, he had contacted Mr. Jordan, with whom he said he spoke regularly. He said that Mr. Jordan asked him not to get him involved. Concerned in mid-April that Ohio State might ignore the accusations, he said he emailed Mr. Jordan asking for help, but heard nothing back.
Dunyasha Yetts, the captain of the wrestling team for the 1993-1994 season, who was named in the NBC story, also implicated the congressman. He said in an interview on Tuesday that he had confided in Mr. Jordan multiple times about “the way Strauss performed physicals on us.”
Dr. Strauss’s inappropriate touching of athletes was open knowledge, he said, and he remembered talking about it with Mr. Jordan on road trips, in the sauna and after practices.
“Coach Jordan knew what was going on, 100 percent,” Mr. Yetts said. “I don’t know how he could have forgotten because this was traumatic for all the athletes.”
More than 150 former students and witnesses have so far been interviewed in the investigation, which the university announced on April 5, shortly after Mr. DiSabato came forward, according to Ohio State.
“Our efforts will continue to be focused on uncovering what may have happened during this era, what university leaders at the time may have known and whether any response at the time was appropriate,” Benjamin Johnson, a university spokesman, said in a statement. “Once the independent investigation has been completed, we will be in a position to consider what further action may be appropriate.”
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