A conservative crisis communications firm is pitching in to help Rep. Jim Jordan fight claims he turned a blind eye to alleged sexual abuse by a team doctor at Ohio State University three decades ago, while Jordan's House colleagues are stepping up their own defense of the outspoken conservative leader.
Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is known for representing conservative figures and nonprofits seeking to push their views in the national political debate. Its first major action on behalf of Jordan, R-Ohio, came Monday as the firm's president, Diana Banister, circulated a statement from former Ohio State wrestling coaches saying that if Jordan had known about alleged abuse, he would have taken action.
The firm on Tuesday sent the news media statements and reported quotes from 15 former wrestlers saying they believed Jordan when he said he knew nothing about alleged groping and other misconduct by Richard Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
"I feel that Jim is a very honest and ethical person and always acted in the best interest of our teammates," said former OSU wrestler Lenny Schork. "I feel that trying to make this political in any way devalues even more the people who were personally affected by this."
It is unclear who is paying for the effort, which comes as a growing group of wrestlers says Jordan knew or must have known about Strauss' alleged behavior at Ohio State. Two former wrestlers have said they told Jordan about the problem. Others say it was widely discussed by wrestlers in the locker room when Jordan was present.
Jordan's campaign has not hired Shirley & Banister in the past, according to his campaign finance disclosure. Banister did not respond to emailed questions about who is paying for the campaign.
Tuesday's press release linked to a website — at standwithjimjordan.com — that was created Monday at 5:47 p.m., according to an online registry. The campaign also includes a Facebook page and a hashtag.
The controversy is taking place at a delicate time for Jordan, an influential conservative congressman and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus. Conservative groups have pressured him to launch a bid for speaker to replace Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is not running for reelection.
On Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., both possible candidates for speaker, praised Jordan in comments to the Associated Press.
And on Tuesday, many of Jordan's conservative colleagues in the House offered him unconditional support and raised questions about the motivations of the accusers.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said there was "unanimous support" within the group for Jordan and suggested there was a "political component" to the allegations.
"He was an assistant coach at Ohio State, one of many coaches, and to suggest that this is somehow Jim Jordan's fault is just not accurate," he said. "Obviously there are motives at play here that are disappointing, but at this point what I do know is that Jim Jordan in my mind is one who would stand up for anyone who had had any type of abuse. He would have been the first one to stand up and say enough is enough."
Meadows declined to explain precisely what motives might be at play, while others were more willing to speculate.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, another Freedom Caucus member, accused the "liberal left" of taking aim at Jordan.
"I think he's just the victim of being important in Washington," he said. "If you're kind of a back-bench, low-profile junior member, you're pretty much left alone. But the higher profile you take and the more influential and effective you are, the more likely somebody on the left is going to make these kind of attacks."
Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., went further in suggesting that Jordan's accusers might have been paid by his political enemies to fabricate their allegations. "There's probably a money trail involved," he said, adding, "As long as there's people willing to pay somebody to do something, there are people willing to take the money."
Those outside the Freedom Caucus offered more measured support.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, another conservative group, said he would be "shocked" to learn Jordan ignored wrongdoing and said he found the timing to be "suspect" given that Jordan had recently said he would consider running to replace Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as House speaker. Jordan has also been a leading critic of the Justice Department's conduct surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign.
"It's just kind of interesting that this has been 20 years in the making, that it comes out this very week," Walker said.
Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, a former Ohio prosecutor and a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, said he knows Jordan as a "decent and straightforward guy" but said he would "wait to see how the investigation pans out" before drawing conclusions. "Allegations of this nature always demand further inquiry," he said.
Jordan has attacked the state investigation that has stirred up the three-decade-old allegations, pointing to the involvement of Perkins Coie, a law firm with close ties to the Democratic Party, in part of the probe. But the investigation into potential wrongdoing at Ohio State was initially launched by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican.
Joyce dismissed the idea that the broader investigation is politically motivated: "Mike DeWine is a straight shooting prosecutor who is just doing his job," he said.
Jordan did not answer questions from reporters as he stepped onto the House floor Tuesday. As soon as he entered the chamber, he was greeted by an array of fellow Republicans, including Scalise. Members from across the GOP spectrum appeared to offer him support on the floor, from veteran conservative Rep. Lamar Smith , R-Texas, to moderate freshman Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.
Later this week, Jordan is set to tangle in front of cameras with a high-profile target, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who Jordan has accused of working behind the scenes to derail the federal investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton while also scheming to undermine President Donald Trump's then-pending campaign by investigating its ties to Russia.
Republicans said Tuesday they didn't expect Jordan to pull any punches at the Thursday hearing.
"I don't see Jim Jordan stepping back from anything," Palmer said. "He is one tenacious guy. He's got the mentality of a wrestler. It's hand-to-hand combat."