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Six years after his resignation, former Ohio House speaker is cleared by FBI

Andy Chow
Republican former Ohio House speaker Cliff Rosenberger speaks to reporters after session in November 2017.

The FBI has told Cliff Rosenberger, the Republican who became Ohio’s youngest House speaker in 2015, that he’s no longer a target of investigation. Rosenberger resigned in 2018, as word leaked that the feds were looking into his connections to the payday lending industry.

An FBI closing letter is very rare, said Rosenberger’s attorney David Axelrod, who says his client is very relieved.

Rosenberger resigned in April 2018, after the FBI seized records regarding his international travel with lobbyists connected to payday lending. Rosenberger maintained he did nothing wrong.

"He ran all the ethical traps on everything that he did and everything that he did was authorized and was appropriate," said Axelrod. "He was the youngest speaker in the United States and he was of Asian descent. And so he was in demand and he took some trips. But again, he ran the legislative traps on all of them and we're confident that none of them were improper."

Axelrod said he thinks the investigation can be connected back to Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder, which he noted when filing to have Rosenberger declared a victim of the House Bill 6 scandal through the federal Crime Victims Rights Act last year.

“What we spelled out there was, testimony and evidence from the Householder trial which suggested that Householder and others wanted to get rid of Cliff to make room for Householder to move into the speaker's chair so that he could do what he did with FirstEnergy," Axelrod said.

The federal judge who presided over the trials of Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges denied Rosenberger's request a few weeks later. Judge Timothy Black wrote that Rosenberger "does not and cannot evidence that either the FBI investigation or his resignation would not have occurred but for the commission of the RICO conspiracy. Full stop."

Rosenberger's resignation paved the way for Larry Householder to become speaker. Ryan Smith took over after Rosenberger's resignation, winning the gavel in an unprecedented House session. Householder wasn't a candidate for speaker then, but his influence among Republicans led to 11 rounds of voting. Smith and Householder battled publicly and privately till Householder ousted Smith in January 2019, becoming speaker with as many votes from minority Democrats as from members of his own Republican caucus.

Householder also got a closing letter in 2006 from the FBI, which had been looking into bribery, tax and mail fraud and money laundering, with no charges ever filed. Householder and some aides were accused of overpaying vendors and getting kickbacks from them and trading campaign contributions for legislation. Householder was arrested in 2020 on a racketeering charge related to the nuclear power plant bailout law.

Axelrod said Rosenberger is now doing some independent consulting and "putting his life back together." His official portrait as speaker was unveiled at the Statehouse in April.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.