COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Democrat campaigning for Ohio governor said Wednesday that it was “highly inappropriate” for the state’s attorney general — a Republican gubernatorial candidate — to call the GOP House Speaker amid talk of an FBI investigation into the speaker’s activities.
Attorney General Mike DeWine described the call as one made merely out of concern for the probe’s impact on House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, but his Democratic gubernatorial rival, Richard Cordray, said DeWine’s motives are not clear.
“What we do know is that there’s an ongoing investigation, Mike DeWine has inserted himself in that ongoing investigation gratuitously, and he now needs to pledge that he will fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation of the FBI, including his role,” said Cordray, himself a former attorney general in Ohio.
The FBI has declined to confirm or deny that an investigation is underway.
Rosenberger first made public federal investigators’ questioning on Friday, when he told the Dayton Daily News he had hired a criminal defense lawyer as a precautionary measure. He said the FBI has been asking questions but has not subpoenaed him or told him he’s under investigation.
The 36-year-old Republican, who’s term-limited, resigned Tuesday , effective May 1. Rosenberger said that while he believes all of his actions as speaker have been “ethical and lawful,” he understands the inquiry could take time to resolve and become a distraction.
At issue for Cordray and other Democrats on Wednesday was a call that DeWine made to Rosenberger after reading Friday’s news account revealing the possible FBI inquiry. DeWine said earlier that he urged the lawmaker to resign if Rosenberger had engaged in any wrongdoing, but that Rosenberger told him he’d done nothing wrong.
DeWine said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he called Rosenberger “out of concern” and that he had no inside information on any FBI investigation, if there even is one.
“My call to him had nothing to do with how he handled the investigation,” DeWine said. “It had everything to do with his public position as speaker. I am a leader in the Republican Party in the state of Ohio. I called him because, frankly, it’s a problem if the speaker of the Ohio House is under investigation by the FBI.”
DeWine said he urged Rosenberger to step down “because I thought that that was the right thing for him to do and it was in the best interest of the people of the state.”
DeWine on Wednesday joined Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, another 2018 candidate for statewide office, in calling for Rosenberger to make his resignation date immediate, rather than waiting until next month.
“He made the right decision to resign — but if it’s right on May 1, it’s right today,” Yost said in a statement. “The same rationale applies, and there is no cause to delay.”
The spring primaries are May 8.
Cordray said there’s “a mad political scramble going on in the Republican party and around the Statehouse right now.” He said people are acting in haste in ways that could jeopardize or interfere with an ongoing investigation.
Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Youngstown-area state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, stopped short of calling DeWine’s call to Rosenberger legally inappropriate. But he said it seemed inconsistent with messages DeWine has delivered while investigating corruption in Ohio communities, including in Steubenville and Youngstown in Schiavoni’s district.
“He seems a lot more comfortable with doing these thorough investigations in these communities when it’s not elected officials in this place that happen to be in the same party that he is,” Schiavoni said of DeWine.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor also questioned DeWine, the GOP’s endorsed candidate for governor, over the call.
“While I agree with the speaker’s decision to step down, there are still many unanswered questions, the first of which is what did Mike DeWine know that prompted his Friday call to the Speaker’s office?” she said.