Starting when he became speaker of the Ohio House in 2015, Republican Cliff Rosenberger hit the road, taking so many trips that at times his staff was uncertain of his whereabouts, according to documents released Monday.
An email from Rosenberger’s office director Alyssa Sarko sent in May 2018 to Ohio House Chief Legal Counsel Mike Lenzo lists 50 trips, including five that had question marks in the notes.
In 2017, Rosenberger was traveling for 111 days — mostly out of state or out of the country, the email shows. He disclosed on his 2018 ethics statement that he received $43,000 in free travel in 2017.
The email was included in tens of thousands of pages of documents released Monday by the Ohio House in response to public records requests and in response to a federal grand jury subpoena received in May.
Rosenberger resigned April 12, just days after disclosing he had hired a criminal defense attorney to handle an FBI inquiry.
Federal authorities sought Rosenberger’s travel and related documents, including his itineraries, travel companions, daily schedules, and who paid for the trips. A search warrant issued May 22 indicates federal officials are trying to build a public corruption case against Rosenberger, two payday lending industry lobbyist and a payday lending executive.
Rosenberger’s attorney David Axelrod said in a written statement that the former speaker “has nothing to hide” and is cooperating with investigators.
“He will continue to provide his full cooperation in anticipation of his ultimate vindication,” Axelrod said. He added that search warrants 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. We caution against reading too much into the mere existence of this search warrant.”
The list of Rosenberger’s travel from 2015 to 2018 shows that he made international trips to Israel, China, Iceland and London, Italy and twice to Normandy, France. It indicates that Rosenberger sometimes tacked on personal travel onto trips that were underwritten by national groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures.
He made personal trips to visit with George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush in Texas. He made a side trip to Disney while in Florida for a House GOP fundraising event.
Often it was a national organization sponsoring the trip, such as an eight-day trek to China in 2016 organized by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation or the August 2017 trip to London organized by GOPAC.
National organizations plan the itineraries, invite participants, take donations from sponsors and provide “scholarships” to cover the politicos’ travel expenses; corporate sponsors may also send people on the trips with the elected officials. Ethics experts said the arrangement raises red flags.