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New texts allegedly show Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted leading FirstEnergy’s push for House Bill 6

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New texts allegedly show Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted leading FirstEnergy’s push for House Bill 6

Jun 24, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Morgan Trau
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New texts allegedly show Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted leading FirstEnergy’s push for House Bill 6
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Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. (Photo and graphic by WEWS.)

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted allegedly led the charge with now-indicted FirstEnergy executives to pass legislation that was the result of the largest corruption scheme in state history, according to newly released text messages.

Husted denies knowing House Bill 6 was the result of bribery.

FirstEnergy spent $61 million dollars in exchange for H.B. 6, legislation giving their failing utility company a $1 billion bailout.

We kept DeWine in the hot seat last week.

On Sunday, new texts revealed that he asked Jones for money, which he then received via a dark money PAC.

On Monday, we questioned why anyone should believe him that he didn’t know about the corruption scheme.

RELATED: Gov. DeWine deflects questions about texts between him and indicted FirstEnergy executives.

DeWine deflected questions about his relationship with the former FirstEnergy executives.

On Tuesday, we discovered and reported on more texts alleging that he helped push forward H.B. 6 and got a playbook from FirstEnergy on how to convince others, according to FirstEnergy executives.

RELATED: New texts show FirstEnergy allegedly working with Gov. DeWine to pass House Bill 6

While DeWine is dealing with the ongoing discovery of text messages linking him to indicted FirstEnergy executives, Republican lawmakers are drafting legislation requiring greater campaign finance disclosure.

On Wednesday, the bill sponsor gave us the first look.

RELATED: Ohio Republicans draft bill to require campaign fund disclosure amid DeWine text message debacle

“My one takeaway from your story is — we need to get rid of all of it,” House Finance Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said about dark money.

On Thursday, we reported that an indicted FirstEnergy executive plans to call Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted to testify as witnesses in his criminal trial.

RELATED: FirstEnergy VP Dowling plans to call DeWine and Husted to the stand in corruption trial

After four days focused on the governor, we are shifting the spotlight to the second-in-command.

“Are you worried about Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted?” we asked DeWine during a one-on-one interview in Dec., 2023.

“No,” the governor responded. “I’m not worried about what I did; I’m not worried about what the lieutenant governor did.”

At the end of last year, we asked DeWine about Husted and H.B. 6 — and the ensuing scandal that landed former House Speaker Larry Householder in prison for 20 years.

Both DeWine and Husted have continuously denied any involvement, and law enforcement has not accused either of wrongdoing.

DeWine echoed his 2023 thoughts this week.

“We followed the law,” DeWine said on Monday.

But a public records request reveals Husted’s ties to former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and VP Michael Dowling — the ones who helped fund his campaign.

Campaigning

The pair held lavish fundraisers before DeWine and Husted were elected, with Jones giving speeches about how the team would be great for “his company and shareholders,” a speech we received said.

“Jon has always been very accessible and great to work with, and I can say without question, he is a good friend of FirstEnergy,” Jones continued in his speech.

Plus, Jones provided the now-Statehouse leaders with money when they asked — all in a secret dark money fund.

“Chuck. Can you call me?” DeWine wrote on October 13, 2018 — less than a month before he faced off against Democrat Rich Cordray in the governor’s race. “OEA put in million yesterday for Cordray.”

Three days later, Dowling texts Jones and said, “Chuck — go ahead and call Mike DeWine on the $500k. It’s going to RGA’s C(4) called state solutions. All set.”

Jones responds, “OK. I’ll call him around 5.”

Both Jones and Dowling were hit with state bribery charges. They pleaded not guilty during their joint arraignment in mid-February. They are accused of masterminding the corruption scheme.

More than just being a friend of FirstEnergy, Husted was seemingly very close with Dowling. Originally, it seemed the company was going to support Husted, but switched to DeWine when seeing polling numbers and when Husted joined the team.

On the day he announced he was pulling out of the race to join DeWine’s administration, Dowling sent an uplifting message, saying he was proud of Husted.

“Your support means a lot to me. I admire you and value your friendship. I hope I didn’t disappoint you, but it is the right decision for all concerned,” Husted texted Dowling.

And the energy conversations allegedly started early.

While campaigning in 2018, Husted texted Dowling, saying, “I just wanted you to know I have a call into Chuck. I wanted to connect with him to give him an update.”

Dowling said not to do it that day because they would be getting bad news from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about one of their plants.

In a group chat on election night, Jones messaged both Husted and DeWine.

“Good luck today,” Jones said. “We will be pulling for and praying for you.”

“Thanks for all you’ve done to help,” Husted responded.

“Chuck, we are very grateful for all your help!” DeWine chimed in.

“We all gave a great effort and let’s hope we’ll be rewarded with a victory,” Husted added.

PUCO appointment

Getting someone approved by FirstEnergy appointed as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) was a challenge, according to texts between the executives. Once they chose Sam Randazzo, they still ran into problems. One that Husted and DeWine allegedly helped solve.

“That bullet grazed the temple,” Dowling said.

“Forced DeWine/Husted to perform battlefield triage,” Jones said back.

FirstEnergy, as a company, already admitted that it bribed Randazzo with $4.3 million to do its bidding as chair. He was essential to the scheme, according to federal and state prosecutors.

Randazzo died of suicide in April after he was indicted in both state and federal court. He is the second man, out of eight, to take his own life due to being connected to the scandal. Neil Clark, a lobbyist accused of bribery, died after pleading not guilty in 2021.

H.B. 6

Once in office, records show that it was Husted, not DeWine, who allegedly helped lead the charge for the bailout bill.

Dowling emailed Jones before H.B. 6 passed in 2019, saying the governor “left the details of H.B. 6 to others — John [sic] Husted and Danny.” Dan McCarthy was DeWine’s legislative director after having been a lobbyist for FirstEnergy.

Along with McCarthy appearing continuously in the documents, so does John Kiani. Kiani was the executive chairman of FirstEnergy’s subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions.

“Husted, Sam, Evans and Danny McCarthy are fighting to the end and we’ve been talking to them all day,” Jones texted Kiani. “Everything that can be done is being done.”

The other men Jones mentions are Randazzo and Matt Evans, a Householder ally and coal company executive basically working as a lobbyist.

Then came the Senate tax debacle. In short, FirstEnergy wanted subsidies for 10 years for their nuclear plants, while the Senate leaned towards six.

“Just had long convo with JHusted just now. Senate President called John twice during our two calls and he called me back twice. All is well. JH is working on the 10 years,” Dowling texted Jones in early July 2019. “He’s afraid it’s going to end up being 8. Talk later.”

“Matt needs to close the 10 with Larry and you or him with JH,” Jones responded.

When the Senate was holding up H.B. 6’s passage, Jones texted Householder.

“Husted called me 2 nights ago and was supposed to get it in the Senate version,” Jones said.

“He’s not a legislator,” Householder responded.

“I know, but he said Senate leaders would listen,” Jones replied. “He didn’t deliver.”

While all of these policy discussion conversations are going on, Husted and FirstEnergy-affiliated people are texting, having meetings and talking on the phone dozens of times, according to call logs.

The above texts are just a sliver of the myriad of other messages about Husted helping FirstEnergy.

DeWine was seemingly purposely left somewhat in the dark about the bribe, according to notes from Randazzo’s federal indictment.

“Explain things like he doesn’t know anything about it — and be surprised when he does,” Dowling wrote about DeWine in a note for Jones. “Sometimes he knows what you’re talking about. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he does and pretends he doesn’t.”

On the flip side of that note, Dowling wrote that “Jon is getting some negative feedback,” illustrating that he allegedly was a part of the conversation.

Reaction

Husted wouldn’t do an interview, and we were unable to catch him at a public event this week — unlike with DeWine.

Click here to read and watch the full back-and-forth.

“These are people talking about him; not with him. So, we can’t comment on their conversations, you would have to ask them,” Husted’s spokesperson Hayley Carducci responded when I asked for a statement or comments about the texts. “But the Lt. Governor has long been publicly on the record that saving the power plants was a priority as they provide the vast majority of the state’s zero-carbon energy. Today, we would be in an energy deficit without them being operational.”

We tried to get more in-depth comments, but Carducci said she had already given her statement and would not be adding more.

Husted has been subpoenaed and is set to give a sworn deposition in a civil case related to the scandal. He has not had it yet, DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said on Monday. DeWine was only subpoenaed for documents.

Both the governor and the LG continue to defend themselves, using the “politics as usual” argument. This is a legitimate argument, Case Western Reserve University law professor Benza said, although it doesn’t look great to use.

“At least in the public documents — nothing shows that same type of quid pro quo going to Jon Husted or Governor DeWine,” the professor said. “It certainly has the appearance of it, but there’s no smoking gun in this type of a case yet… but I think they have to be worried.”

Still, this could put a damper on political ambitions, Benza said.

Husted is expected to run for governor in 2026 against Attorney General Dave Yost — the man who indicted Jones, Dowling and Randazzo.

Back when Randazzo died in April, we talked with Yost about what happens now to the deceased’s case. He said that he isn’t dismissing any charges or defendants.

We asked if we should expect this death to impact any future defendants, such as anyone in state leadership.

“I have declined to take future questions, I’m going to continue to do that,” Yost responded. “If there are any further results of the investigation, we will bring those, like the other things, to court and make our case there.”

We reached out to the AG’s office to ask if they were aware of all of these texts prior to the publication, if they could raise to a level of campaign coordination and if the office is investigating the politicians.

The office declined to comment.

DeWine deflected questions about his relationship with former FirstEnergy executives after texts revealed he asked for money ahead of his first gubernatorial campaign.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.