FBI alleges bribes, extortion by ex-Ohio House speaker
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
Monday, August 27
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Federal investigators seized records from former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s office earlier this year as part of a federal criminal investigation into potential bribes and kickbacks surrounding payday lending legislation, according to documents released Monday.
A subpoena and search warrant that the House released in response to public records requests provided new details of the FBI probe that led to the Republican rising star’s sudden resignation in April.
Agents seized three boxes of documents, a box of sport coats and a jacket, and a thumb drive in May that investigators believe contain evidence of extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, attempt to commit extortion and bribery, the documents show.
Later Monday, the House released the hundreds of pages of documents it has turned over to the FBI.
House Republicans’ political fund, OHROC, also released documents Monday showing it had turned over to the FBI a personal computer left behind by Rosenberger. A spokesman said the organization volunteered the information “in the interest of transparency.”
Rosenberger’s lawyer, David Axelrod, reiterated that Rosenberger “has nothing to hide” and is fully cooperating in the investigation.
He said the warrants and documents released Monday contained nothing that hasn’t been known for months and cautioned against reading too much into them.
“Search warrants may be interesting to read, but aren’t necessarily good indicators of what evidence actually exists,” he said in a statement. “They are one-sided documents that are often little more than wish lists of evidence for investigators and prosecutors, and the threshold for inclusion in a search warrant is very low.”
Investigators also sought documentation of Rosenberger’s travels and his communications with payday industry lobbyists Stephen Dimon Jr. and Leslie Gaines, Advance America vice president Carol Stewart and others.
Rosenberger left the House April 10, a day after documents show U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman sent a letter to House administrator noting “an official criminal investigation” was being conducted.
Then one of Ohio’s most powerful politicians, Rosenberger had been criticized for his lavish lifestyle, including traveling around the world and staying in a luxury downtown Columbus condo owned by a wealthy Republican donor. He has said all his actions as speaker were “ethical and lawful.”
Among Rosenberger’s travels was a trip last August to London for an event sponsored and paid for by the GOPAC Education Fund’s Institute for Leadership Development. GOPAC works to elect Republicans to higher office.
Other politicians who attended — including Minnesota Speaker Kurt Daudt, Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos, Michigan Speaker Tom Leonard and North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson — emphasized the money for the trip didn’t come from taxpayers and that all ethics laws were followed. They have also told The Associated Press they were not lobbied during the event.
Ohio’s ethics laws, like those in most states, prohibit legislators from accepting valuable gifts but allow them to accept travel expenses to conferences related to official business if they aren’t exchanged for legislative favors.
Rosenberger, who made about $101,000 a year as a lawmaker, was allowed to pay for work-related trips through his own campaign fund, through House Republicans’ political fund or through a stipend from an outside group such as GOPAC.
GOPAC, like many other groups that seek to inform state legislators, takes contributions from corporations to help fund its budget. Corporations pay membership fees to the group that make them privy to invitations to events at which lawmakers will be present.
Among corporations attending the London event were Altria, Comcast, Walmart and Select Management, operator of the title lending business LoanMax. Dimon and Gaines are registered as Select Management lobbyists in Ohio and South Carolina, respectively. Messages were left for both of them Monday.
An Ohio bill cracking down on some of the highest interest rates in the nation on payday loans languished for more than a year on Rosenberger’s watch, prompting a statewide ballot push by frustrated consumer advocacy groups.
Restrictions on the industry swiftly cleared the chamber in June after a replacement speaker was seated.
Ohio State abuse case echoes Larry Nassar gymnast scandal
By MARK GILLISPIE
Monday, August 27
CLEVELAND (AP) — A scandal at Ohio State University over decades-old sexual misconduct by a team doctor has raised comparisons with the Larry Nassar abuse case at Michigan State University, which inspired many Ohio State victims to come forward. A side-by-side look at the cases.
— Larry Nassar was a doctor and instructor at Michigan State University from 1997 to 2016 and a team physician for U.S. men’s and women’s gymnastics teams at four Olympic games. Nassar, 55, will likely spend the rest of his life in federal prison after pleading to child pornography charges last year. He also pleaded guilty to abusing gymnasts in Michigan state court and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in January.
— Richard Strauss was a team physician and professor during his employment at Ohio State from 1978 until his retirement in 1998, when he was awarded emeritus status. Strauss tested Olympic athletes for illegal drug use during the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and served on various sports-sciences and sports-medicine publication committees with the International Olympic Committee. He killed himself in California in 2005 at the age of 67. Were he alive today, it’s unclear whether he would have faced any criminal charges because of Ohio’s statute of limitations.
The two men share a scholastic tie. Strauss received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Michigan State in 1960. Nassar graduated from the school’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993.
— More than 250 female gymnasts and athletes from Michigan State and gymnastic clubs have publicly accused Nassar of abuse. Many of Nassar’s victims were juveniles.
— Ohio State has said more than 100 former students have shared firsthand accounts with investigators from a law firm hired by the school that Strauss acted inappropriately. While Strauss was best known at Ohio State as the team physician for the university’s top-ranked wrestling team, the university said in April it had received allegations about Strauss from former male athletes in 14 different varsity sports.
— Rachael Denhollander, an attorney, coach and former Michigan State gymnast, contacted the Indianapolis Star in 2016 and filed a criminal complaint with Michigan State University police. Denhollander told the Star, which has just published an article on USA Gymnastics’ failure to act on reports of sexual abuse by coaches, that Nassar began molesting her when she was 15.
— Mike DiSabato, who wrestled at Ohio State from 1987 to 1991, met with university officials in March to discuss Strauss, inspired in part by Denhollander’s example. Ohio State officials announced not long after it had launched an investigation into allegations against Strauss and then hired a law firm to conduct an independent probe. In recent weeks, some have questioned DiSabato’s motives, including whether he had a vendetta against GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, an assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1995. Jordan has said he was unaware of abuse allegations concerning Strauss and would not have ignored them.
— Authorities say Nassar used illegitimate scientific and medical explanations to explain to gymnasts complaining about bone and muscle pain why he would penetrate them for extended periods of time over the course of many treatments.
— Several former Ohio State wrestlers have said Strauss would spend five minutes or longer examining and manipulating their genitals during physical examinations and treatment for all kinds of medical conditions, telling wrestlers he needed to examine their lymph nodes.
— Gymnasts said they told Michigan State officials and university police years earlier about Nassar. Longtime university President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned under pressure in January on the day Nassar was sentenced for abusing seven girls in state court. Athletic Director Mark Hollis announced his retirement earlier this year. The school’s gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, retired the day after she was suspended with pay and on Thursday was charged with lying to police. Michigan State trustees issued an apology after Nassar’s victims told their stories in January. “We failed you,” trustee Brian Mosallam said.
— Wrestlers and other Ohio State athletes have said they notified university officials during meetings and in writing about Strauss and the inappropriate behavior at Larkins Hall, the facility some athletic teams had locker rooms and where Strauss worked. Officials, many of whom are retired, have denied any knowledge about Strauss’ sexual misconduct. Ohio State officials have said the university is committed to uncovering the truth.
The allegations against the doctors have led to Title IX investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights at both schools.
— Michigan State has agreed to a $500 million settlement, $425 million to be shared among 332 women and girls and $75 million for future claims. There are pending lawsuits against USA Gymnastics, International Federation of Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, and an elite gymnastics club based in Lansing, Michigan.
— Three federal lawsuits have been filed against Ohio State over the Strauss allegations. Two of the lawsuits are class-action complaints.
AP reporter Kantele Franko contributed to this report.
Editorials from around Ohio
By The Associated Press
Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 26
Three cheers for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for denouncing disinformation that rumormongers have tried to spread about the Aug. 7 special congressional election in central Ohio.
Husted forcefully disproved a raft of false statements emanating from social media accounts and what might fairly be termed conspiracy media about the 12th Congressional District vote. The district, a reliably Republican one, is made up of Delaware, Licking and Morrow counties; and parts of Franklin, Marion, Muskingum and Richland counties.
The winner of the special vote to finish out the term of Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, per Friday’s official canvass results, is state Sen. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican. He narrowly defeated the Democrat, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor of Columbus, by 1,680 votes, less than a percentage point.
Tiberi resigned early this year to take a private-sector job. Balderson and O’Connor will face each other again on Nov. 6, vying for a full, two-year congressional term.
More public officials should speak out, as Jon Husted has, when rumormongers seek to undermine Ohioans’ and Americans’ confidence in democratic processes. As Husted himself so eloquently put it in his Aug. 13 statement: “To the bad actors out there who want chaos and to erode the people’s confidence in our elections, enough is enough.”
We couldn’t say it better ourselves.
The Marietta Times, Aug. 25
World health officials are worried that measles may be making a comeback. During the first six months of this year, Europe alone reported more than 41,000 cases of the disease. Thirty-seven victims died.
Contrast that with U.S. statistics: This year, there have been just 107 instances of measles here. There were no deaths (the last, a single fatality, was in 2015).
Many of the European deaths are linked to health care disruptions due to violence in places such as Ukraine, which has had 23,000 measles cases this year.
But, according to analysts, failure of many European parents to have their children vaccinated against measles played a role, too.
Worldwide, measles remains a scourge. It was not until 2016 that the global death toll dropped below 100,000 annually, at 89,780.
Our experience in this country has been unusual, because the vast majority of parents do have their children immunized. But, to guard against outbreaks, a 95-percent vaccination rate is required, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Junk science — some of it fabrication — persuades some parents vaccines are dangerous. In truth, they save lives. If your child has not been immunized, consider the statistics from Europe.
The Canton Repository, Aug. 26
While it’s sometimes said the cover up is worse than the crime, it also can be said a halfhearted apology ends up most damaging of all.
Between Wednesday evening and Friday afternoon, either someone shared that view with Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer or he figured it out for himself.
At the moment Meyer, one of Ohio’s most influential people, held the state’s (heck, much of the country’s) attention, he fumbled his opportunity to go beyond the stilted statement he was about to read and speak out strongly against domestic violence.
The backlash against Meyer increased in volume Thursday and into Friday, far surpassing any scrutiny he has experienced for results on the field, where his Buckeyes have lost consecutive games only once in his six seasons. On Friday, he made sure his failure to tackle the subject of domestic abuse would not become his second losing streak, issuing through Ohio State the statement anti-violence advocates had hoped to hear Wednesday.
“My words and demeanor on Wednesday did not show how seriously I take relationship violence. I sincerely apologize,” Meyer’s statement read. “I was taught at a very young age that if I ever hit a woman, I would be kicked out of the house and never welcomed back. I have the same rule in my house and in the Football Program at Ohio State.”
The Blade, Aug. 26
It is well for Americans to remember, in this epoch of our discontent, that there are good men and women among us, including in politics.
John McCain was a good man. He was cantankerous, to be sure. Hard on new, young senators. And sometimes spectacularly wrong on foreign policy. It was said that he never met a small war he did not like.
Actually, he never met a freedom fighter he did not like. He loved liberty, and he knew, better most of us, what it cost. But he thought America should be “a city upon a hill,” that our nation should always lead the world in the cause of human rights and freedom. We should never “lead from behind” or retreat to within. We should always come to the aid of those who wish to speak their minds and live their lives as free people who afford these same rights to others.
John McCain showed us how to serve. He showed us how to love our country. He showed us how to live and he showed us how to die.
Johannes Brahms ends his noble, human requiem this way: “Blessed are the dead . that they may rest from their labors, for their works follow after them.”
McCain’s final statement: Americans have ‘more in common’
By MELISSA DANIELS and LAURIE KELLMAN
Monday, August 27
PHOENIX (AP) — Sen. John McCain expressed his deep gratitude and love of country in his final letter and implored Americans to put aside “tribal rivalries” and focus on what unites.
Rick Davis, former presidential campaign manager for McCain who is serving as a family spokesman, read the farewell message Monday at a press briefing in Phoenix.
In the statement, McCain reflected on the privilege of serving his country and said he tried to do so honorably. He also touched on today’s politics.
“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here,” McCain wrote. “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
McCain died Saturday from an aggressive form of brain cancer. Plans taking shape called for McCain to lie in state Wednesday in the Arizona State Capitol on what would have been his 82nd birthday. A funeral will be conducted Thursday at North Phoenix Baptist Church with former Vice President Joe Biden speaking.
In Washington, McCain will lie in state Friday in the Capitol Rotunda with a formal ceremony and time for the public to pay respects. On Saturday, a procession will pass the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and arrive for a funeral at Washington National Cathedral. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are expected to speak at the service.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell paid tribute to John McCain on Monday by recalling their own legislative battles while echoing the late senator’s belief that there’s more that unites than divides Americans.
Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell says that while McCain served the state of Arizona in Congress, “he was America’s hero all along.”
He spoke near McCain’s desk in the Senate, which has been draped in black and adorned with white roses in his honor.
McConnell and McCain tangled over several issues, including McConnell’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which failed on McCain’s surprise “no” vote. McConnell says serving with McCain “was never a dull affair.”
McCain will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday.
A private funeral is planned for Sunday afternoon at the Naval Academy Chapel followed by a private burial at the academy cemetery.
President Donald Trump was not expected to attend any of the services.
McCain was a noted critic of Trump, and Trump’s response to McCain’s death has been closely watched.
The flag atop the White House flew at half-staff over the weekend in recognition of McCain’s death but was raised Monday and then lowered again amid criticism.
Trump said Monday afternoon that he respects the senator’s “service to our country” and signed a proclamation to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until his burial.
When asked about Trump’s response to McCain’s death after the flag was raised Monday, Davis said that the family is focusing on the outpouring of support from around the world instead of “what one person has done or said.”
“The entire focus of the McCain family is on John McCain,” Davis said. “There really is no room in the McCain family today to focus on anything but him.”
In Arizona, high-profile campaigns announced that they have suspended some activity this week.
McCain was just one of 11 U.S. senators in the state’s 116-year history, and on Tuesday, primary voters will decide the nominees in races across all levels of government. There’s also the sensitive question of who will succeed McCain.
Arizona law requires the governor of the state to name an appointee of the same political party who will serve until the next general election. Since the time to qualify for November’s election is past, the election would take place in 2020, with the winner filling out the remainder of McCain term until 2022.
Possible appointees whose names circulate among Arizona politicos include McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief of staff Kirk Adams.
Throughout the weekend, Arizona politicos across all levels of government offered remembrances of McCain. Noting McCain’s death, several candidates, including Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who are expected to win their party’s races for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, on Sunday evening said they would suspend their campaigns on Wednesday and Thursday. Ducey, whose office is coordinating services at the Arizona State Capitol for McCain, will not attend any campaign events between now and when McCain is buried.
Tributes poured in from around the globe. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted in English that McCain “was a true American hero. He devoted his entire life to his country.” Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said McCain’s support for the Jewish state “never wavered. It sprang from his belief in democracy and freedom.” And Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, called McCain “a tireless fighter for a strong trans-Atlantic alliance. His significance went well beyond his own country.”
McCain was the son and grandson of admirals and followed them to the U.S. Naval Academy. A pilot, he was shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years. He went on to win a seat in the House and in 1986, the Senate, where he served for the rest of his life.
“He had a joy about politics and a love for his country that was unmatched,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told CNN’s “State of the Union.” ”And while he never made it to the presidency, in the Senate, he was the leader that would see a hot spot in the world and just say, we need to go there and stand up for that democracy.”
Kellerman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.