Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger announced Tuesday night that he is resigning from office amid talk of an FBI investigation into his activities.
Rosenberger, 36, a term-limited Republican from Clarksville, said that while he believes all of his actions as speaker have been “ethical and lawful,” he understands the inquiry could take some time to resolve.
“Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters,” Rosenberger said in a statement.
Rosenberger told the Dayton Daily News on Friday that he hired Columbus attorney David Axelrod, a former federal prosecutor, “as a precautionary measure.” He said the FBI has been asking questions but has not subpoenaed him or told him he’s under investigation.
“Quite frankly, I’ll be up front: I think politics is a pretty dirty place right now,” Rosenberger told the newspaper in an interview.
The FBI has declined to confirm or deny that Rosenberger is being investigated. An FBI inquiry would not necessarily result in charges.
Rosenberg said his resignation would take effect May 1. At that time, he said, Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring would assume his responsibilities until the House elects a new speaker.
“The Speaker is my friend and has been a valued partner in leading Ohio,” Republican Gov. John Kasich said in a statement. “I am sorry to hear this news but respect him for making a decision that he believes is right for our state and the people and institutions for which he cares deeply. I wish him well in the days ahead.”
Kasich had told reporters earlier during an unrelated Statehouse appearance that he did not know any details about the FBI’s interest in Rosenberger.
The powerful Rosenberger has been criticized for his lavish lifestyle, which includes traveling around the world and staying in a luxury downtown Columbus condo owned by a wealthy Republican donor. His destinations have included Europe, Israel, Iceland and various U.S. cities.
Rosenberger, who makes $100,798 a year as a lawmaker, is allowed to pay for work-related trips through his own campaign fund, a House Republican political fund or with a stipend from an outside group. He must disclose who pays for each trip. He is barred from accepting gifts worth more than $75 from individuals or lobbyists and prohibited from exchanging trips for legislative favors.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who Rosenberger endorsed in the governor’s race, said he called Rosenberger on Friday after learning the lawmaker had hired a lawyer and advised him that he must resign if he had engaged in any wrongdoing. DeWine said Rosenberger told him he had done nothing wrong.
DeWine’s opponent in the Republican primary questioned that phone call.
“While I agree with the Speaker’s decision to step down, there are still many unanswered questions. The first of which is what did Mike DeWine know that prompted his Friday call to the Speaker’s office? The days of the Establishment are numbered. Rosenberger is just the beginning,” said Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in a statement.
Rosenberger rents his Columbus condo from Ginni Ragan, an influential Republican donor who has donated $1.7 million to GOP politicians’ campaigns since 2012, including $47,000 to Rosenberger’s campaign, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported . Ragan, 73, is a top shareholder in Delaware, Ohio-based Greif, an industrial packaging manufacturer.
In August, Rosenberger took a four-day trip to London with Republican leaders from other states for an event paid for by the GOPAC Education Fund’s Institute for Leadership Development. GOPAC helps elect Republicans to higher office. Executive Director Jessica Curtis confirmed that Rosenberger and state Rep. Nathan Manning, of North Ridgeville, were among event guests.
Steve Dimon, an Ohio-based lobbyist for title lender LoanMax, also was on the trip. Title and payday lenders have been lobbying against proposed legislation at the Statehouse that would place restrictions on their industry.
Dimon confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that he attended the GOPAC event and that he saw Rosenberger there. He declined to say whether the two discussed any legislation or whether he has since been questioned by the FBI.
Dimon said representatives of several other companies, representing industries other than payday lending, also participated.
Rosenberger released the following statement Tuesday:
As I have said previously, I am aware of a federal inquiry being conducted regarding things I may have been involved in. First and foremost, I believe that all of my actions as Speaker have been both ethical and lawful.
However, I understand that the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and could take months or even years to resolve. Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters. I believe the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives is far more important than one person.
Therefore, it is after much thought and contemplation that I have decided to resign as both Speaker of the Ohio House and state representative of the 91st District, effective May 1st. At that time, Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring will assume the responsibilities of the office of Speaker until a new Speaker is elected by the Ohio House.
Serving the people of the 91st House District has been the greatest honor of my life, and I am truly sorry that I will not be able to fulfill the remainder of my term. I take this step with full confidence in my ultimate vindication, but also believe this decision is what is best for my family, my constituents, the residents of the state and the Ohio House of Representatives. I have every belief that the House will continue to lead on the most important issues facing our great state and that Ohio’s future remains bright.
Governor John Kasich reacted to the news:
The speaker is my friend and has been a valued partner in leading Ohio. I am sorry to hear this news but respect him for making a decision that he believes is right for our state and the people and institutions for which he cares deeply. I wish him well in the days ahead.
Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) also released the following statement:
It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve with Cliff Rosenberger over the past seven years in the Ohio House. Particularly in the past three years, I believe we have worked well together to take the lead on a variety of policy issues that are critical for our state’s success. That is what makes tonight’s announcement so emotional.
Though it was very difficult, I know the Speaker made the decision he felt was best for the Ohio House of Representatives. Therefore, effective May 1st, I will humbly accept the responsibilities of the office of the Speaker until the next Speaker is elected by the House.
Moving forward, my goal will be to facilitate the operations of this institution as smoothly and efficiently as possible. I will continue to work closely with our members on the legislation that is important to them and the people of Ohio.