Ohio House speaker hires defense attorney over FBI questions

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said he hired a criminal defense attorney because he heard the Federal Bureau of Investigation is asking questions about him.

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

He added “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.”

FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren said “As a matter of policy we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation.”

Axelrod, who could not be reached for comment, is a partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick and focuses on white collar criminal cases and other matters. A former federal prosecutor, Axelrod represented former Ohio State University band director Jonathan Waters when the university dismissed him in July 2014.

Related: Former OSU band director sues university over firing

News of an FBI inquiry is the latest challenge facing Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, as he finishes his final year as House speaker. Vying to replace him are former speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis.

An upstart blog — Third Rail Politics — is peppering Team Rosenberger with public records requests, posting “rumor alerts” under headlines such as “Is the House GOP Caucus in Trouble?” and criticizing Rosenberger’s spending.

Related: Ohio House Speaker rents luxury condo from prominent GOP donor

Rosenberger has also faced embarrassing news reports over a handful of Republican caucus members, including Wes Retherford of Hamilton being found passed out drunk in his truck in a McDonald’s drive through, Wes Goodman of Cardington resigning in November after being confronted about reports that he had sexual contact with a man in his Riffe Center office and a complaint by Republican challenger Jocelyn Smith about the alleged behavior about her opponent, incumbent state Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek.

Rosenberger, an Air Force veteran and a 2012 Wright State University graduate, has not disclosed what his employment plans are when he leaves office in December.

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