Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, at podium. Photo from Ohio House website.
In a show of defiance, indicted Rep. Larry Householder proclaimed his innocence to House leadership Tuesday and rebuffed bipartisan efforts seeking his ouster.
Householder, with his criminal defense attorney periodically whispering in his ear, made a two-pronged argument for himself. For one, he said the allegations against him are just that — “unproven” and “one-sided” allegations, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for criminal convictions.
For two, they don’t amount to “disorderly conduct,” the undefined term that appears in the section the Ohio Constitution that allows the House to expel its members.
“Are unproven accusations sufficient to discipline a member for disorderly conduct?” Householder, a Glenford Republican who served as speaker until his July arrest, said.
“I have not, nor have I ever, taken a bribe, or solicited or been solicited for taking a bribe. Never.”
The House Rules and Reference Committee, a bipartisan panel of House leadership controlled by Republicans, heard testimony last week on separate resolutions from Democrats and Republicans aimed to expel Householder.
Federal prosecutors charged him and four political allies with racketeering, accusing them of secretly accepting $61 million from FirstEnergy Corp via a dark money, pass-through entity. They allegedly used the funds for personal enrichment and to engineer the passage of House Bill 6, a bailout worth an estimated $1.3 billion to the company.
As the hearing began, House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, declined to place Householder under oath, despite a motion from Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester.
Democrats on the committee went after Householder. Some Republicans, who have by and large stayed mum on the Householder issue for months, also began to ratchet pressure against him.
Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Twp., asked Householder about the timing of House votes on House Bill 6 — legislation at the center of the indictment against Householder. He claimed Householder hastily scheduled a floor vote and questioned why.
“Do you understand your role on this committee? Your role is the legislation that’s in front of you. It’s not to be a jury,” Householder said. “If you want to come [to the federal courthouse] to Cincinnati and ask those questions, I’m sure you’ll be there testifying against me. That’s fine, you’ll get your chance, and I’m sure [my lawyers] will be more than happy to speak with you in the cross examinations.”
At another point, Mark Marein, one of Householder’s lawyers, responded to Carfagna’s questioning.
“The question that was asked by the representative is so far beyond the question that is presented to this panel today, that he knows better,” he said.
Carfagna declined an interview after the committee wrapped.
Rep. Rick Carfagna is trying to press Householder on issues with HB6's passage. Householder is not taking kindly to the questioning pic.twitter.com/RMV5jPJ08I
— Tyler Buchanan (@Tylerjoelb) June 15, 2021
During the hearing, Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Montgomery, even asked Householder, point blank, to resign. Householder declined.
Before taking questions from lawmakers, Householder made an extended opening statement.
He repeatedly declined the allegations against him; invoked his rights to due process and trial by jury; emphasized that voters re-elected him despite the indictment; and predicted a finding of innocence from a jury of his peers.
He distanced himself from guilty pleas entered by two of his political allies: political adviser Jeff Longstreth and lobbyist Juan Cespedes. Lobbyists Neil Cark and Matt Borges were charged with racketeering as well. Borges awaits trial. Clark died by suicide.
Householder’s statement also dove into Republican base politics. He compared the case against him to the two impeachments of President Donald Trump; he drew a connection between a Democrat seeking his ouster and Democratic mega-donor George Soros, who Householder called a “socialist;” and characterized the expulsion effort as a veiled effort to usurp the voters of Perry County.
“I think this was a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory defense from Rep. Householder,” said Rep. Brian Stewart, one of two Republicans who sponsored the expulsion resolution.
“He testified today that this is some socialist plot, ignored the entire contents of the affidavit. And again, this is President Trump’s handpicked U.S. attorney who brought these charges, his Republicans political fixers who have pled guilty already, this resolution is brought by Republicans, and real conservatives don’t stand for corruption.”
Rep. Jeffrey Crossman, D-Parma, who sponsored the other resolution, said in a brief interview that Householder deserves a “daytime Emmy” for his performance, but he’s planning to try to force a floor vote during Wednesday’s floor session.
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