Editor’s Note: Josh Campbell is a CNN analyst covering national security, crime, and justice. He previously served as a supervisory special agent with the FBI. Follow him on Twitter @joshscampbell. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
The chief justice of the US court of public opinion is himself in the hot seat and facing uncomfortable allegations of serious wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, NBC News published a report indicating the fiery Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, stands accused of turning a blind eye to alleged acts of molestation by a doctor working for the wrestling team Jordan assistant-coached at The Ohio State University.
Jordan has strongly denied these allegations, issuing the following statement: “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. 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.”
The investigation into the alleged abuses began in April 2018 when Ohio State announced it had received reports that Dr. Richard Strauss, who served as a doctor for the university’s wrestling team for approximately two decades, had engaged in sexual misconduct with student athletes. Strauss killed himself in 2005, but the university nevertheless thought it appropriate to fully investigate the matter.
In the NBC News report, three former student wrestlers told the network that it was widely known that Strauss molested athletes he was responsible for treating. These unnamed former students indicated it is unbelievable to think Jordan, as an assistant coach, would have had no knowledge of the doctor’s alleged actions. One of the students told NBC that he had reported the matter directly to Jordan.
Allegations of sexual abuse and attempted coverups in student sports are nothing new. We all remember the despicable case of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, who was convicted of 45 counts relating to the sexual abuse of young boys and remains in jail to this day. The case ruined the once vaunted reputation of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who died in 2012, and who may have concealed the child rape allegations from authorities.
Then there is the more recent case of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University Dr. Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. The pain of the victims was exacerbated by reports that Michigan State failed to do enough to stop Nassar. The university and the assault victims eventually reached a settlement of $500 million.
The allegations against Jordan are extremely serious and warrant a full investigation to determine if he knew about the sexual molestation accusations. If he did, but chose not to act, there is a case to be made for culpability, especially as someone in a position of authority who could have intervened.
A chief problem for Jordan is that he now finds himself in the unenviable position of proving a negative, assuring the public and his constituents that he did not know about the alleged abuse.
His problem is exacerbated by the fact that he is so often known as a political firebrand who frequently leaps to conclusions while investigations are still underway. Take, for example, his central role in drawing conclusions from disparate pieces of information about surveillance abuse and suggesting the FBI was out to get President Trump, even while a DOJ inspector general investigation looking into these allegations had not yet been completed.
If we were to apply Jordan’s standard of drawing conclusions without full facts, it would be hard to simply accept his full-throated denial in the Ohio State molestation matter.
With that said, and even though Jordan appears to operate on a different set of standards than he wishes himself to be judged, we should not engage in the type of character assassination that has made him famous.
He should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Perhaps we can model a lesson in decency if we withhold judgment, wait for the facts, and afford him the same level of civility he so often denies others.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Jim Jordan was an assistant coach of the wrestling team.