CINCINNATI — Larry Householder took the stand Wednesday in his own defense at his federal corruption trial. The former house speaker, along with former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, are charged with racketeering conspiracy in what prosecutors say was a pay-to-play scheme that traded bribes for a billion-dollar nuclear bailout bill.
Householder talked about building relationships in politics and that he looked for potential candidates who he considered to be "family people."
Householder said he never asked any candidates to vote for him for speaker, countering claims by prosecutors that he supported candidates and representatives who pledged him their vote, a move that would give him more leverage to pass legislation favorable to FirstEnergy.
He said he didn't know that FirstEnergy Solutions drafted the first version of what would become House Bill 6, the billion dollar nuclear bailout bill that would benefit FirstEnergy Solutions' two struggling nuclear power plants in Ohio. He said he sketched out his own ideas for the legislation, in the hopes of getting rid of costly mandates and incentivize clean energy.
Householder said he did fly to D.C. for Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017 on FirstEnergy's private jet, but that he reimbursed the company $2,600 for the flight and had receipts to prove it. He also said that while on that D.C. trip, he never had dinner with FirstEnergy executives as witnesses for the prosecution had testified and didn't know why his name was listed on the reservation.
Householder also testified that strategist Jeffrey Longstreth was the one who created Generation Now, the dark money group that prosecutors say was a cover for bribes from FirstEnergy. Longstreth previously told jurors that both of them came up with the name. Longstreth testified for the government after pleading guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
Householder explained Generation Now was "a vehicle that would educate the public about the issues important to Ohio and support candidates who were in support of those issues" and that he contacted people who had historically donated to similar groups in the past, including labor unions, but never told Chuck Jones that a donation would advance any legislation that would benefit FirstEnergy. He also described his own involvement as distant, contradicting previous testimony from Longstreth who described Householder as being heavily involved.
Earlier Wednesday, lobbyist and consultant Robert Klaffky testified for the defense. He said it was David Griffing, FirstEnergy’s director of government affairs, and not him who handed Householder a check, and that the money was not intended as a bribe. Householder referenced the same meeting in his testimony Wednesday, again saying he made it clear that he wasn’t promising to pass any legislation.
Geoffrey Verhoff, was expected to testify Wednesday, pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Verhoff worked for a D.C. firm that represented FirstEnergy Solutions in its lobbying efforts for HB6.
Householder and Borges both pleaded not guilty.