Republicans rally around Jim Jordan: Sex abuse scandal is work of the "deep state"

So far, Republicans' tactic of screaming “deep state” and “fake news” seems to be protecting right-wing hero

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 13, 2018 6:00AM (EDT)

Jim Jordan (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Jim Jordan (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Once again, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has not been accused of committing sexual abuse. But in an ever-widening scandal, he is accused of turning a blind eye to a pattern of abuse that occurred while he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University -- and now, of lying about it as a U.S. congressman.  

There are now nine former Ohio State wrestlers and a former head coach (and fierce Jordan defender) who initially admitted to knowing about widespread sexual abuse by a team doctor before Jordan flatly denied any knowledge.

In one of the most inexplicable responses to a scandal of the #MeToo era, the right-wing Republican -- who has been pushed forward by the House Freedom Caucus as a potential speaker, should Republicans hold the majority in November -- took such a defensive crouch when the allegations first broke that he left little room for interpretation. Jordan has denied seeing anything, knowing anything or doing anything wrong.

“It’s not true,” the congressman told Politico shortly after the Associated Press’ report on the Ohio State scandal was published earlier this month. “I never knew about any type of abuse. If I did, I would have done something about it.”

Jordan then reportedly hired a conservative crisis communications firm to guide him through the budding controversy. He has since admitted to having heard rumors from the students he coached, but argued that he considered the allegations to be "locker room talk." (A phrase with an unpleasant political history.) On Fox News, Jordan said that he heard rumors about possible abuse, but had not reported it. That was when there were only three former wrestlers who said Jordan knew about the abuse and did nothing.

It appears that Jordan’s adamant denials and his deflection of blame onto the “deep state” have caused more former Ohio State wrestlers, including Republicans who previously supported him, to call him out. The growing controversy seriously calls into question Jordan’s claim that he has been completely in the dark about these allegations until recently. Ohio State started an investigation into the matter in April.

Jordan has taken to attacking every newly reported allegation as totally biased and unfair. Beyond simply relying on the lazy right-wing bogeyman of the “deep state,” Jordan and his Republican allies have also cried “fake news” to attack CNN for daring to vet the allegations.

The very act of journalism is dismissed as “fake” by those who want to protect themselves from accountability. In their haste to defend Jordan, Republicans have accused multiple former wrestlers of lying and suggested he is caught up in a conspiracy meant to derail his chances to become House speaker.

"Jim Jordan is a friend of mine," retiring Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., 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." Ryan rejected calls for a congressional ethics probe into Jordan.

“I don’t believe them,” said President Donald Trump, only days after the first allegations broke. “No question in my mind. I believe Jim Jordan 100 percent. He’s an outstanding man.”

All of the roughly 40 members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus voted Tuesday night to stand behind Jordan as a group. Republicans argue that Jordan, who has made a name for himself in Congress by grilling federal investigators who are probing alleged collusion by the Trump campaign with the Russians, is the newest target of a "deep state" conspiracy. Evidence? Effectively, there is none. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a staunch Trump loyalist, argued that Jordan’s former wrestlers conspired to release their claims, in an attempt "to knock the best oversight member of Congress off his game" during the week that former FBI agent Peter Strzok is testifying on Capitol Hill

Gaetz's deflection may have included a nugget of truth: All the supposedly mighty Jordan could muster when Strzok finally testified on Thursday was frustration.

“This is unbelievable, but that’s where it’s gotten to now and it’s as frustrating as it can get,” Jordan pronounced, after Strzok said that at the FBI's insistence he was unable to answer questions about his role in the investigation into whether President Trump or his associates had conspired with Russian agents to interfere with the 2016 election.

Neither Jordan nor any of his Republican colleagues could present any evidence, during hours of questioning, suggesting that Strzok's political opinions influenced any actions by the FBI or the Department of Justice.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, who made his own headlines with his aggressive questioning of Strzok on Thursday, pointed to the law firm contracted to conduct an investigation into Ohio State's handling of the abuse allegations.

“Given the inclusion of Perkins Coie in the mix, the likelihood increases that money has already changed hands to purchase a drive-by character assassination of beloved conservative Republican Congressman Jim Jordan,” Gohmert said in a statement.

While it's true that Perkins Coie’s Washington office is run by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign lawyer, the firm lawyers who worked the Ohio State investigation are in Chicago. Gohmert also deliberately ignores the fact that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former senator and current gubernatorial candidate, is a central figure in the investigation.  

Jordan himself has furthered this “deep state” conspiracy theory. He recently suggested that “the timing is suspect when you think about how this whole story came together after the [Rod] Rosenstein hearing and the speaker’s race.

Jordan’s badgering of Rosenstein a couple of weeks ago, using Fox News commentary to accuse the deputy attorney general of "withholding information from Congress," ignored the fact that Rosenstein was appointed as a U.S. attorney by George W. Bush and then elevated to his current position by President Trump. Still, Republicans have accused Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, also a Trump appointee, of being part of the “deep state” conspiracy. If so, it was a “deep state” that supposedly wanted to destroy Trump but instead let him get elected, and has watched while he cements his legacy with Supreme Court appointments.

Jordan, along with every other Republican in Congress, has learned from Trump. As a candidate, Trump paid off a porn star to keep their (alleged) affair quiet a month before the election and Republicans didn’t care. Now Republicans in Congress are eager to follow the president's model and cover up their own possible crimes. There is little evidence that Republican voters will care. After all, the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House in American history was a convicted child rapist of teen boys.

According to a recent Monmouth University poll, three in four Americans believe the so-called deep state exists. Most of Jim Jordan’s constituents won’t care about his scandal, if they ever even hear about it. His is one of the most effectively gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation, and no possible "blue wave" will sweep him out of office. Talk about a deep state.

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By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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