By JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Federal agents searched former Republican Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s southwest Ohio home and a nearby storage unit Wednesday, apparently part of an investigation into the money behind his international travel and lavish lifestyle while serving as one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren confirmed that the agency was “conducting law enforcement activities” in the area. They visited his home on State Route 350 in Clarksville and a storage unit in Wilmington.
Rosenberger’s lawyer, David Axelrod, said his client was cooperating with authorities, reiterating the former lawmaker’s position that he has “acted lawfully and ethically.”
“We previously offered to provide the information sought today by warrant, and today voluntarily provided additional information not covered by the warrant,” Axelrod said in a statement. “Speaker Rosenberger has also complied with a requirement to file legal disclosure forms regarding gifts, meals and travel.”
Rosenberger, 37, resigned from the House last month after saying he was aware the FBI was asking questions about his activities and had protectively hired Axelrod, a criminal defense attorney. While speaker, Rosenberger took trips, sometimes with lobbyists present, to Europe, Israel, Iceland and various U.S. cities and rented a luxury Columbus condo from a wealthy GOP donor.
The FBI investigation has clouded efforts to elect Rosenberger’s replacement in the House, which is unable to pass any new laws until the issue is resolved.
House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith, of Gallia County, told reporters that he believes he has the votes to win, but that his chief rival and his allies are using “despicable” tactics to sabotage the vote — including leaking false information to reporters that his house, like Rosenberger’s, had been raided by the FBI.
“Frankly, the tactics in the last week that have been used — from bullying to threats to downright extortion — are embarrassing,” he said.
Smith said some people have suggested he should cut a deal to end the stalemate.
“Let me be very clear. I won’t make a deal today, tomorrow, ever with people that act like this. It’s despicable. I want nothing to do with it,” he said. “I came to Columbus with my integrity, I’m going to leave here with my integrity — whether I win or not.”
Smith’s chief rival, state Rep. Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County and former speaker, fired back.
“It’s my understanding that Representative Smith made a litany of unfounded allegations that are unequivocally false. I don’t believe wild accusations and name calling is a responsible course to resolving conflicts and only leads to greater divides,” Householder said in a statement.
The escalating chaos prompted Democrats to slam the GOP caucus for bringing dysfunction, chaos and embarrassment on the chamber.
“Today’s developments are symptoms of a sickness in the capital,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray. “It’s no secret our legislature has gone completely off the rails as a result of one-party rule.”
Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring, a veteran Republican lawmaker from Canton, announced Wednesday that he was canceling sessions for the remainder of this week because of an impasse on selecting Rosenberger’s successor.
Schuring said Smith has support from 70 percent of the caucus but cannot get to the 50 necessary votes because of some holdouts.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “I think this is unprecedented that we have a faction of our caucus who has decided to break with tradition and not support our nominee, particularly a nominee who won by such an overwhelming margin.”
Major Ohio business groups and others have expressed dismay at the leadership stalemate, citing potential damage to the state’s economy from the infighting and delays in key legislation.
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