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Will a Speaker Jordan End Up Like Dennis Hastert, Done in by a Sex Scandal?

Congressman Jim Jordan Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert
Images: Shutterstock; David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Hastert, a former wrestling coach, went to jail for paying a man off who he sexually abused as a youth. Jordan, a former wrestling coach at Ohio State, has his own imbroglio.

Former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert served eight years, the longest of any House Republican Speaker, from January 1999 to January 2007. Hastert, from Illinois, had a reputation as being low-key, moderate, and unassuming -- at least on the outside.

Hastert's demeanor was quite a contrast from his predecessor, Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich, who resigned as speaker, and from the House, in 1998. He was forced to leave by his own caucus, because of a dismal showing by Republican House candidates around the country.

Gingrich's departure created a vacancy. The Majority Leader at the time was Tom DeLay who was by no mean well liked, and if you're asking me, was a real crook. That opened to the door for Louisiana Representative Bob Livingston, who was chosen as Gingrich's successor. But Livingston had to withdraw in December 1998 once his extramarital affair was exposed. He resigned from Congress the following March. Since President Clinton was being badgered by Republicans to resign because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Livingston couldn't look like a hypocrite.

Come again? In today's Republican party being a hypocrite is a prerequisite.

With nowhere to turn in December of 1998, desperate House Republicans turned to the relatively unknown Hastert. While the House's Republican Speaker imbroglio involved several characters, it was wrapped in several days. In other words, Hastert won on the first vote, not 15.

It seems Republicans have a history of not being able to find a leader with gravitas. On Friday, the caucus chose Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan over some guy from rural Georgia, Austin Scott, that we'll likely never hear from again. First Majority Whip Steve Scalise garnered the majority, but not enough to win on the House floor. Then came Scott who flew into for a rescue attempt and fell flat, and now we're left with Jordan. It was a bit like 1998, or as Yogi Berra used to say, a case of déjà vu all over again.

Hastert popping up out of nowhere occurred at the start of the Lewinsky scandal when Republicans lambasted Clinton for his sordid behavior; however, Gingrich who led the charge against Clinton, later admitted having an extramarital while going after Clinton. Oh, what a mess those Republicans harlots turned out to be.

It was assumed that the mild-mannered Hastert was the one Republican that didn’t have any skeletons in his closet – isn’t that an oxymoron? Since he was a Republican that was a terrible assumption to make about Hastert. To be sure, Hastert wasn’t all warm and fuzzy. He was accused of “blowing up” the House’s regular order by congressional historian Norm Orenstein, and tamping down all the indignities around the corrupt DeLay, whose naughtiness looks like child's play today compared to Matt Gaetz, for example.

More prophetically, Hastert looked the other way when he was faced with sexual harassment complaints from young, male House pages. They claimed former Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley was sending them steamy texts like "how my favorite young stud doing?" Foley resigned in disgrace, but at first, Hastert tried to shove it in the back of a closet -- pun intended.

When the House went back to Democratic control after the 2006 midterms, a scandal-free Nancy Pelosi became speaker. A few years after he left office, Hastert was back in the news when he was caught paying off a former wrestler he coached in high school. The man was being paid upwards of $1 million to remain silent about Hastert abusing him. After a long, drawn-out process and trial, Hastert was eventually found guilty on multiple counts.

The judge overseeing the trial said Hastert was a “serial child molester,” and sentenced the former speaker to 15 months in prison, two years supervised release, sex offender treatment, and fined him $250,000.

Now, fast-forward to today’s complete and utter mess with Republicans in the House. It would appear that they have another alleged sexual abuse scandal with the current speaker in waiting, That would be Jordan, Ohio’s motormouth, habitually lying, bigoted, homophobic, Trump-loving, ethically challenged, extremist with a dubious past.

As a bit of an aside, if you juxtaposition Jordan with the equally sleazy and indicted former Trump aide Peter Navarro, you can hardly tell them apart. Their similar attributes include rolled-up sleeves, loosened ties, incessant talking, obnoxious hand gestures and their foaming-at-the-mouth lies for Trump. I often wonder if Jordan was Navarro’s secret son?

Back to Jordan's dubious past. Prior to his flailing foray into dodgy politics, Jordan also had his hand in wrestling. Like Hastert, he was a coach; the assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University from 1986 to 1994. Why those years are important is because at that same time, the team's doctor, Richard Strauss, was alleged to have sexually abused athletes at the university. Strauss, whether out of guilt or afraid of being convicted of a crime, committed suicide in 2005.

While Jordan was not pawing his wrestlers like Hastert, those he coached said Jordan knew about what was going on with Strauss and ignored it. Some wrestlers pleaded with Jordan to do something, which apparently fell on deaf ears. According to an investigation initiated by the university in 2018, 48 wrestlers said they were abused between the years 1978 and 1998 when Strauss was at Ohio State, which overlapped exactly with Jordan’s coaching years.

Many of the wrestlers who claimed they were abused said that they told Jordan, who was the coach and presumably mentor (God help them) about what was happening to them. Jordan, of course, denies any culpability. If you observe Jordan closely, he's a lot like Navarro -- and Trump -- in another way. He's never taken responsibility of anything he's done wrong in his life.

Now, ask yourself this question. Knowing what you know about Jordan, a man who has, more than once, been called a liar, who would you believe? The university's numerous wrestlers who all agree that they told Jordan about Strauss, or Jordan? Thanks to the Columbus Dispatch, you can read all about the evil of Strauss and the implications of that evil here.

This all may be news to some – the fact that Jordan has a shady wrestling past like Hastert. Even firebrand South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace, while backing Jordan as speaker, feigned any knowledge of the Ohio State wrestling scandal and Jordan’s involvement – lying birds of a feather for sure! Everyone in Congress knows about Jordan's time at Ohio State. But the point is that most people who don’t lie for a living aren’t aware of the wrestlers’ plight or their charges against Jordan. That all may change in a hurry.

Remember the luridly sick Jerry Sandusky, former football coach at Penn State, who abused so many young boys? When the allegations first surfaced, it started as drip, drip, drip. Then the sheer and shocking breadth and depth of what Sandusky did became appallingly evident. That's because more and more people stepped forward with stories about officials at the university turning a blind eye to Sandusky's behavior.

The spotlight got so bright and heated that the initial wavering about Sandusky by Penn State officials and legendary Coach Joe Paterno melted, resulting in a string of resignations, including Paterno’s. Former players came forward saying that they went to Paterno and the university about Sandusky. Trying to protect the reputation of the university and its football program, these officials did not act. By ignoring Sandusky, they thought it would go away. Instead it only got grotesquely worse.

If Jordan becomes Speaker of the House (God help us), his time at Ohio State, and the statements of his former athletes are also going to come under a bright and heated media spotlight. The wrestlers have been vehement in their assertions that Jordan knew, and did nothing, which is almost as bad as being the assailant, because ignoring the problem meant Strauss could abuse more victims without regard.

Republicans under Speaker Hastert complained that he was often too quiet. That he didn’t stand up more for the caucus. That he wasn’t more outspoken. I’m not a psychologist, but Hastert probably tried to keep the spotlight off himself as much as he could. He knew putting himself out to the masses was dangerous. It's almost impossible to keep a secret under an intense spotlight.

Besides, during this time in the late 1990s, other members of the Republican caucus were cheating on their wives, and those out of wedlock affairs were getting all the attention. That wasn’t something that Hastert was doing. His demons were known only to a few.

With Jordan, that’s not the case. He’s always opening his trap, making headlines for his absurdities, and by doing so, he might be setting a trap for himself. As the media piles on, and thou doth protest too much, will Jordan be backed into a corner, or slammed down by the former wrestlers he taught to pin?

In the bizarre way Donald Trump “likes” people, he admires Jordan because of his wrestling background. Anytime Trump takes a fancy to someone, and they get too close to his fire, they get burned. Will Jordan’s wrestling days, which the convicted sexual harasser Trump obsesses over, come back to haunt Jordan if he becomes Speaker?

One of those former wrestlers, Mike Schyck, spoke to NBC News earlier this week – the media is already starting to zone in. Schyck said, “If early on he jumped in on our side and validated what we were saying, what everybody knew about what Dr. Strauss was doing to us, then this wouldn’t be happening. But he decided early on, for reasons I still don’t understand, that he was going to deny knowing anything about this."

“Now he’s got no choice but to stick to this story that he had no idea what Dr. Strauss was doing, even though it’s a lie.” He added, “Do you really want a guy in [the speaker] job who chose not to stand up for his guys?”

At 81, Dennis Hastert is still alive and living in Illinois. Perhaps Jordan should give the former speaker and fellow former wrestling coach a call and ask him how he should “bridge out" his wrestling past. That's a term for escaping from an opponent, which in Jordan's case, is the truth.

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.