Lawyer: West Virginia gov cleared in federal investigation

Politics

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks at a Salute to Service charity dinner in conjunction with the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Tuesday, July 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson)

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s personal lawyer said Tuesday that a federal investigation of the governor’s private businesses has ended with no finding of wrongdoing.

Justice attorney George Terwilliger told reporters at a hastily assembled press conference that the governor’s legal team was notified yesterday by “career Justice Department prosecutors” that the investigation has ended. He offered few additional details and his assertion could not be independently verified.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

“This never should have happened,” said Terwilliger, a U.S. Department of Justice veteran who previously served as acting attorney general. “All that we have seen shows a hardworking family led by a governor who cares deeply about the people of the state and tries to put their best efforts first.”

Terwilliger did not elaborate much on how they were notified, saying only that “career people in the Justice Department saw fit to communicate to us forthrightly and directly that the investigation is over.” He rejected the idea that they needed a formal written notice of the conclusion of the investigation.

Justice, a Republican, has been engulfed in rumors after it was made public last year that prosecutors in a public corruption unit have sent three subpoenas to his administration requesting information about his businesses and a resort he owns called The Greenbrier.

The first subpoena to emerge was sent to the state Commerce Department for documents about his resort, its annual PGA golf tournament and the tournament’s financial arm. The state previously sponsored The Greenbrier’s golf tournament, but Justice said he ordered the arrangement to stop after taking office in 2017 because he didn’t want any perception of impropriety.

The two other subpoenas sought records from the state Tax and Revenue departments, asking for communications, meeting records and tax documents involving the state and any of the roughly 100 private business interests held by the governor.

Justice did not attend the press conference Tuesday but has maintained he was cooperating with the investigation, previously saying “anything you’re going to find around me is going to be goodness and it’s going to be the right thing.”

The news conference, presided over by the Justice’s personal attorney but held in the governor’s ornate reception room in the West Wing of the Capitol, underscored the unusual relationship between the Justice business empire and his position as chief executive. It was announced late Monday in an official state news release that said only that Terwilliger “will provide a legal update regarding Gov. Justice and his family.”

It also harked back to a similar episode in 2018 when Justice held a press conference with state revenue officials to say he resolved a series of tax disputes that had long followed his companies. Officials then said the governor wasn’t involved in resolving the debts but would not say how much money was paid.

Justice has been reported to be the richest man in West Virginia, with a net worth estimated at $1.5 billion by Forbes magazine. In his most recent financial disclosure statement, Justice lists a diverse business portfolio of coal and agricultural interests that have been the subject of multiple lawsuits over unpaid debts and safety fines.

In addition to the legal drama surrounding his businesses, Justice has also had to battle a civil lawsuit that accuses him of violating a passage of the state Constitution stating the governor “shall reside at the seat of government.” The long-running case, which was brought by a Democratic state lawmaker, has been a perennial black eye for the governor, raising questions about his attentiveness to his position as governor. Justice has called the lawsuit “a total waste of time.”

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