Editor’s Note: Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote government accountability and integrity. Former Ambassador Norman L. Eisen, a CNN contributor, is the author of The Last Palace, forthcoming in September. He served as President Obama’s “Ethics Czar” from 2009-11. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors; view more opinion articles on CNN.
Another member of the Ohio State University wrestling team has stepped forward to join the growing number of those alleging that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, knew that the team’s doctor was sexually abusing team members while Jordan was the assistant coach – and that Jordan failed to take any action to prevent the abuse.
From his congressional soapbox, Jordan has proclaimed that the allegations are false. However, in the face of mounting evidence, it is time for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to address this matter. We have filed a complaint asking them to do so.
In April, Ohio State announced that it was investigating charges that the wrestling team’s former doctor, Dr. Richard Strauss (who committed suicide in 2005), had sexually abused team members in a period from the mid-1970s through the late 1990s. Rep. Jordan served as assistant coach of the wrestling team during part of that period, from 1986 to 1994, prior to his election to Congress.
According to press reports, multiple team members now state that Jordan, while he was their assistant coach, knew about the allegations that Strauss was sexually abusing team members, and failed to take action to stop the abuse.
In response, Jordan said, “I had not heard about any type of abuse at all” and that “no one reported any type of abuse” to him. Jordan later seemingly contradicted himself, admitting to having unspecified “conversations in the locker room,” but saying those “are a lot different than people coming up and talking about abuse. No one ever reported any abuse to me.”
There is a direct conflict between the public statements made by the former student wrestlers and Rep. Jordan’s denials that he had knowledge of the abuses. His current and very public statements directly reflect on the integrity of the House of Representatives as an institution and on the credibility of its members.
If Rep. Jordan is currently making false statements to cover up his past knowledge of, and inaction in addressing, sexual abuse, his statements would violate clause 1 of House Rule XXIII, which requires that House members must conduct themselves “at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House.”
The House Ethics Manual cites 11 prior instances in which the Ethics Committee has invoked this provision in investigating or disciplining members. These prior matters include making false statements in connection with the Korean Influence Investigation; inflating the salaries of congressional employees in order to enable them to pay the member’s personal, political or congressional expenses; engaging in sexual relationships with House pages; writing a misleading memorandum that could have influenced a personal associate’s probation, and making statements “that impugned the reputation of the House.”
In assessing Rep. Jordan’s honesty in the Ohio State matter, we cannot help but note the irony that he recently attacked the credibility of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of overseeing the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Rep. Jordan angrily accused Rosenstein of covering up alleged misconduct by department officials in carrying out the investigation. Jordan has even threatened Rosenstein with impeachment for simply doing his job. We would be loath to mention the Russia investigation but for the fact that Jordan himself has drawn a link between the Ohio State investigation and his recent attack on the Justice Department, by questioning the motivations of the former student wrestlers alleging the abuse.
Referring to the allegations against him, Jordan stated, “I think the timing is suspect from when you think about how this whole story came together after the Rosenstein interview, or hearing, with this whole talk about the speaker’s race.”
The credibility of Jordan’s attack on Rosenstein is cast in a very different light now that Jordan’s own credibility is under a cloud. Jordan is claiming that not one or two, but at least seven, according to the Washington Post’s count, former student wrestlers are lying about him. Like his Justice Department investigation allegations against Rosenstein, that is hard to believe.
If OCE assesses that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Jordan knew that student wrestlers under his supervision were being sexually abused, and the House Ethics Committee ultimately investigates and determines that Rep. Jordan is publicly lying and in violation of clause 1 of Rule XXIII of House Rules, the consequences would range from admonishment to censure and, in the most serious cases, expulsion.
The fact that those who coached with Jordan have waded in to defend his recent statements is no reason not to investigate. Jordan’s colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus, which he helped found, have also come forward to defend him, but their assertions count for little since they have no firsthand knowledge of the underlying facts and have not conducted an investigation.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the idea that the House Ethics Committee should investigate, suggesting it isn’t typical for the committee to look into issues from “a couple of decades ago.” But Speaker Ryan is wrong, since our request to OCE is about investigating alleged false statements that were made by Rep. Jordan in recent days.
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Whether or not the House Ethics Committee has jurisdiction to sanction the behavior of a member that occurred prior to the member’s service in the House, the committee does have jurisdiction to determine whether members are currently engaged in conduct that fails to “reflect creditably” on the House in violation of the House rules.
If Rep. Jordan is telling the truth and not lying to cover up his failure to protect students under his supervision from sexual abuses, he should have nothing to fear from a thorough review. We hope he will encourage, and cooperate with, a full House ethics investigation.