The office of Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) confirmed Saturday that the Ohio House 91st District representative has hired a defense attorney in the wake of news that the FBI has been making inquiries about him.
The News Journal reached out to Rosenberger’s office on Saturday. Spokesman Brad Miller told the News Journal via email, “We can confirm the information in the Dayton Daily News article yesterday, but at this time we are not making any further comment.”
The Dayton Daily News reported that Rosenberger said, “… 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.”
The paper also reported that FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren told them, “As a matter of policy we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation.”
Watchdog questions speaker
Rosenberger has had to tackle questions this year after some alleged embarrassing behavior by several Republicans.
On March 21 the News Journal reported that a “mobile billboard” rolled through Clinton County to bring attention to what a government ethics watchdog organization said is the tepid response from Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to remarks made by two state lawmakers at a political event several weeks ago.
“Too many organizations make the mistake of assuming incidents of bad behavior by powerful individuals are one-time events. The opportunity to ask tough questions is before Speaker Rosenberger. But so far, he is silent,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of Checks and Balances Project.
The Associated Press reported in late January that “two Republican state lawmakers apologized for offensive remarks they made during a top House staffer’s going-away party that made light of recent sexual misconduct scandals and disparaged female lawmakers. State Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and state Sen. Matt Huffman of Lima separately expressed regret for vulgar and derogatory jokes cracked on Tuesday at the farewell celebration for House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe.”
Their remarks came less than a week after the House completed newly mandated sexual harassment training.
In an acknowledgment letter to Seitz, Rosenberger said he was “disheartened by the careless and insensitive remarks” the representative made. He told Seitz he expects his remarks to be more thoughtful and his behavior more respectful going forward and he directed Seitz to personally apologize to State Rep. Candice Keller and former state Rep. Diana Fessler, according to AP.
The mobile billboard asked what steps Rosenberger is taking to determine if the conduct he witnessed is or is not part of a pattern of inappropriate behavior from Seitz.
Speaker responds to Perales matter
Rosenberger responded April 3 to allegations made by a House of Representatives candidate against a current representative.
According to the Xenia Daily Gazette — a sister AIM Media Midwest paper of the Wilmington News Journal — Jocelyn Smith, who is running against current District 73 Representative Rick Perales in the May primary, accused Perales of “kissing and choking” her in his vehicle in January 2015 as well fondling her. She also said he offered to exchange introducing a bill for a specialty license plate benefiting pancreatic cancer for sex. Smith has also said that the two were having a sexting relationship.
In the letter, Rosenberger told Smith — a Fairborn resident — that if the kissing, choking and fondling allegations are true that she should contact law enforcement officials as it does not fall under the Ohio House of Representatives purview, the Xenia paper reported.
However Rosenberger said the legislation for sex accusation would “call into question both ethical and legal concerns.”
Rosenberger asked Smith for “information substantiating this allegation.”
“Representative Perales admitted to an inappropriate texting relationship,” said Brad Miller, spokesperson for Rosenberger. “We were all kind of surprised that (choking) had come forward, having not heard anything about that. We were interested in gathering some more information … not rushing to make any judgment. The speaker is very serious about this if there are allegations of (physical abuse).”
In a press release that included a copy of Rosenberger’s letter, Smith said she will do what the speaker said.
“I intend to follow the speaker’s recommendation in doing exactly that,” said Smith, pointing out that she will be speaking to local and state criminal authorities in the very near future.
Smith added that “While (Perales) had previously sought sex regularly from me, there was no single meeting in which he said ‘if you have sex with me, I will pass this bill,’ because by then I had cut all ties with him. However, based on his repeatedly expressed desires, there is absolutely no doubt if I’d slept with him, he would have enthusiastically promoted the legislation. Besides, why would someone refuse to return phone calls about a bill to help people with cancer? He may not be convicted in a court of law, but he deserves to be convicted in the hearts of Ohioans.”
Perales, through campaign manager Daniel Palmer, said Rosenberger’s letter didn’t contain any surprise information.
“Representative Perales has had a chance to look over the speaker’s letter,” Palmer said. “He believes that it’s the appropriate response that the speaker gave. There’s not really much else to it.”
Perales also denies all allegations.
“The representative has had a very consistent story from the beginning that there was no physical contact whatsoever,” Palmer said. “We as a campaign will not continue to be discussing these evolving allegations. It seems her story is not consistent.”