The Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Cliff Rosenberger (Republican, Clinton County), has hired a defense attorney following reports on Friday that the FBI is making inquiries about him.

Has Cliff Rosenberger done anything wrong?

No charges have been filed against Rosenberger, nor has he been officially informed he is under investigation or even been subpoenaed. The FBI has, as is standard procedure, declined to confirm or deny any investigation. So why has he hired Columbus defense lawyer David Axelrod to represent him?

Speaking to the Dayton Daily News, Rosenberger explained:

“Quite frankly, I’ll be up front: I think politics is a pretty dirty place right now. I have not been subpoenaed. And as far as I know I have not been told I’m under investigation.

“As a precautionary measure, I went ahead and hired David Axelrod because I had been made aware and understand that the bureau is asking questions about things I may have been involved in. But that is only from a precautionary standpoint. I’m not going to answer any more questions than that.”

As far as legal strategy goes, Rosenberger’s move appears to be merely prudent. But from a public relations point of view, hiring a defence attorney when you have not even been informed of an investigation seems highly defensive. Does the Ohio Speaker have something to hide?

Studying Churchill along with a lobbyist

Over the weekend the Daily News reported that the FBI are investigating a trip taken by Rosenberger to the UK in August 2017. Funded by the Republican group GOPAC, the trip was organized “to educate participants on U.S./U.K. trade opportunities, foster the exchange of ideas with Members of Parliament and facilitate the study of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.”

More likely, considering who was footing the bill, Cliff Rosenberger is being considered by GOP leaders for higher office. At just 36, and with term limits forcing him to step down from the Ohio House in November, he is an obvious Republican candidate for state-wide office in a crucial swing state. Taking him away on a four day junket provided plenty of opportunity to sound him out on his future plans.

But that alone would not interest the FBI. At this point the media can only speculate, but lobbyist Stephen D. Dimon, Jr. has confirmed to the Daily News that he was on the UK trip, and he represents a payday lender. The industry has been fighting several bills currently being considered by the Ohio House.

Conditional call to resign

No prominent officials have called on Cliff Rosenberger to resign, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine is laying to the groundwork. A supposed ally of Rosenerger, DeWine called the Speaker on Friday after the initial news reports broke. According to DeWine campaign spokesperson Ryan Stubenrauch, “DeWine spoke with the speaker on Friday after the news reports, and told him that if any of those allegations are true, that he should step down.”

Rosenberger reportedly denied any wrongdoing on the call, and it is not entirely clear what allegations DeWine was talking about.

But the Ohio Democratic Party is crystal clear about what it thinks the main issue is: too many Republicans in power.

In a sharply worded statement, Chairman David Pepper described what he saw as a worrying trend in the Ohio House.

“The House Republican Caucus has had members engaging in ‘predatory behavior toward younger men,’ drunkenly passing out in a McDonald’s drive-thru, exchanging inappropriate text exchanges with constituents and making derogatory comments about their women colleagues – and now we find out the FBI is looking into the Speaker himself…

“Ohioans expect leadership from the Statehouse to take on the many challenges the state faces right now, but scandals, resignations and now the whiff of an FBI investigation are dominating Capitol Square these days. Ohio voters need to know more about possible criminal activity at the Statehouse and who else the FBI might be investigating. Then let’s clean up the mess and get back to the people’s work.”

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