Rep. Jim Jordan never witnessed abuse by the Ohio State wrestling team's doctor and he hasn't been contacted by anyone investigating the incidents while he was an assistant coach two decades ago, the Urbana Republican's spokesman said Tuesday.
However, lawyers hired by OSU to probe the allegations said Jordan actually was contacted — both by phone and email — to request an interview. But he never responded.
And three members of the wrestling team under Jordan insist he knew about the abuse but looked the other way.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for Jordan, said in a written statement that 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."
But a written statement from Porter Wright Morris & Arthur attorney Kathleen Trafford, provided by the university, said investigators have previously contacted Jordan’s office by email and phone to request he participate in an interview.
"To date, Rep. Jordan has not responded to those requests, but we understand from public statements issued on his behalf today that Rep. Jordan is willing to talk to the investigative team," Trafford said.
Jordan, who has represented a swath of west central Ohio since 2007, is considered one of the more powerful conservatives in Congress and is widely credited as being a driver in former House Speaker John Boehner's resignation. Earlier this year, Jordan said he is considering running for House speaker if Republicans keep control of the chamber in November.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, called the allegations "serious."
"The university has rightfully initiated a full investigation into the matter," Andres said. "The speaker will await the findings of that inquiry."
Jordan has denied as far back as April knowing anything about allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss, who died in 2005.
"I had not heard about any type of abuse at all," said Jordan, 54, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion with Wisconsin who was an OSU assistant from 1986 to 1994. He told The Dispatch last spring that "no one reported any type of abuse" to him.
Former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, one of the first victims to report Dr. Richard Strauss’ alleged misconduct to Ohio State, told The Dispatch on Tuesday he is disappointed by Jordan’s response, calling the congressman "a coward."
"He knew, did know, and it’s very disappointing that he has now denied knowledge, not once, but twice," DiSabato said. "I’ve never known Jim Jordan to be a coward, frankly, but this shows that his own interest in seeking higher office is more important than the health, safety and well being of his friends and athletes who competed for him and with him."
In a statement on her website, Democrat Janet Garrett, who is running against Jordan, said "any allegation of sexual abuse against minors — or complicity regarding such abuse — is very serious. That damage cannot be undone. For any teacher, protecting kids is the absolute first priority — and I say that as a former kindergarten teacher.
"Ohio State has an obligation to get to the bottom of this with a thorough and fair investigation. Jim Jordan has an obligation to cooperate fully with that investigation."
Porter Wright was appointed by the Ohio attorney general’s office as legal counsel in the Strauss matter for Ohio State, and the firm hired Perkins Coie to conduct an independent investigation. So far, Perkins Coie has interviewed more than 150 former students and witnesses.
Since Ohio State launched the investigation in April, it has expanded to additional facets of the university and Columbus community. Former student-athletes from 14 sports have reported allegations of sexual misconduct relating to Strauss, the university said in an update last month. Additionally, some students who were not athletes have reported sexual misconduct, as well those who were familiar with Strauss through a private medical practice he ran in Columbus in the 1990s.
Investigators are also now looking into whether Strauss also may have treated high school students.
The three former wrestlers told NBC News that it was well-known that Strauss showered regularly with the students and inappropriately touched them during appointments. One wrestler said he told Jordan directly about the abuse.
Former athletes and students have described physical examinations or check-ups by Strauss in which they were routinely made to take off their pants, or having their genitals thoroughly inspected by Strauss for such ailments as heartburn or a sore throat.
In addition to misconduct by Strauss, DiSabato and other wrestlers have described a "cesspool" or "gauntlet" of "sexual deviancy" in and around the wrestling facilities and then-physical education building, Larkins Hall.
A video created by DiSabato and other former athletes described the abuse by Strauss and conditions in the locker rooms and athletic facilities during his tenure. For example, Russ Hellickson, Buckeye wrestling coach from 1986 to 2006, said Strauss was always "too hands-on" with athletes, and that the physician took long showers in the same area as the wrestlers.
Hellickson said he caught people having sex or masturbating in the wrestling team areas and surrounding facilities. He said the misconduct created a problem for his wrestlers, affecting their mental states.
"All of my administrators recognized that it was an issue for me." Hellickson said. "I’m sure that I talked to all of them on numerous occasions about my discontent with the environment."
DiSabato said he and others provided the video to Ohio State to "provide the university direct emotional feedback from the victims."
Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said when the university received the video last week, "it was immediately provided to the independent investigators."