COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cliff Rosenberger, a former Ohio House speaker who abruptly resigned from office in 2018 amid an FBI investigation that hasn’t led to any charges, said Monday he’s left the Republican Party over his concerns with the GOP’s continued alignment with former President Donald Trump.
“I’m a conservative, and I’m going to be a conservative,” Rosenberger said in a Monday interview. “But if the Republican Party is going to continue, which it seems that they are, going down the path of supporting a guy like Donald Trump, I’m not going to have anything to do with that. So at this juncture, I’m going to consider myself an independent.”
Cleveland.com / The Plain Dealer contacted Rosenberger after a reader noticed that state voter records listed him as a Democrat. Public records show Rosenberger pulled a Democratic ballot in the May 2020 primary, and Rosenberger said he did so to vote for Joe Biden.
Rosenberger said he may have considered voting for a Republican challenger to Trump had there been a legitimate one. He said he ended up voting instead for Biden, whom he met while working as a White House intern in then-President George W. Bush’s administration.
“I decided I’m going to take out a Democrat primary ballot. I’m going to support the guy who I think is more aligned with me and who will put the country in a better position,” Rosenberger said. “I have no qualms about it.”
He said he thought Biden would at least attempt to govern in a bipartisan manner, as he has with the current proposed infrastructure bill that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is helping negotiate. Rosenberger said he’s also heard from other Republicans who have privately responded sympathetically to his posts criticizing Trump on social media.
“I can’t tell you how many people told me ‘Cliff, I believe the same thing you do, but I have to support the party,’” Rosenberger said. “But I don’t flow that way.”
Rosenberger was one of the state’s most powerful Republicans when he resigned from office in April 2018 after it became clear the FBI was investigating his travel and spending habits. The FBI raided his home the following month, and a subpoena to Rosenberger’s government office made clear the feds were investigating his dealings with lobbyists for the payday lending industry.
But the investigation so far hasn’t led to any charges. The FBI since has filed charges against one of Rosenberger’s successors, Larry Householder, accusing him of accepting bribes in exchange for help passing a nuclear bailout bill. Householder, a Republican, has pleaded not guilty. The FBI also has investigated pay-to-play allegations at the Statehouse involving ECOT, the defunct online charter school, and a proposed bill that would legalize betting on sports, neither of which has yet to directly lead to any charges.
Rosenberger declined to comment on the investigation that drove him from office. Rosenberger’s attorney, David Axelrod, said that he last spoke with federal officials about the case about three months ago.
“I asked the the U.S. Attorney’s Office to close the case, and they’ve declined. He’s had the Sword of Damocles over his head for three years, and it’s time for it to end,” Axelrod said.
Rosenberger has kept a low profile since leaving office, although through social media has documented his extensive global travel to places like Antarctica and Brazil. He said Monday he’s enjoying being out of public life, and said he’s been doing some consulting work related to health care.
He also said he has no plans to return to politics “anytime soon.”
“An innocent man has nothing to fear. I’m just going to go about enjoying spending time with my family and finding new hobbies,” he said.
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