CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday he doesn’t know what investigators with the U.S. Department of Justice are looking for in connection with recent subpoenas aimed at the relationship between the state Department of Commerce and properties owned by the governor.
Justice fielded a number of questions from reporters at the end of a news conference at the state capitol.
“I don’t have one earthly clue what they are looking for,” Justice said. “I want to be respectful of these people and the job they are doing.”
When asked if the DOJ had requested any additional documentation, Justice said some things he’s been told by his attorneys not to answer.
The subpoena commanded the state Department of Commerce to provide a range of records about The Greenbrier, The Greenbrier Classic PGA event and Old White Charities, the nonprofit arm of the resort.
The subpoena indicates an investigation by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, but in itself is not evidence of wrongdoing. It is also not clear whether there are more subpoenas.
Justice said again Tuesday that he’s an open book and has nothing to hide to investigators.
Neighbors Loving Neighbors
Justice was asked Tuesday about the group Neighbors Loving Neighbors, a campaign by The Greenbrier Resort that collected food and cash for victims of the 2016 flood. Habibi Said Mamone led the efforts for Justice.
Justice said he never saw the books.
“There were three or four different people in my organization that were just taking the monies in and distributing the monies out and positively, without one thread of doubt, there was never an administrative fee taken, never anything taken,” Justice said.
Old White Charities
Justice repeated that he’s personally funded Old White Charities in connection with PGA event. He said Tuesday he’s probably spent $70 million of his own money on the golf tournament and turned down money from the state when he became governor.
“Just add up what I have refused so far on that. I’d say you’re approaching $10 million in sponsorship money from the state and I’ve refused all of it. How has Old White made it? I guarantee Old White Charities has made it one way, me,” Justice said.
Richwood criminal charges
Justice bristled when asked whether the criminal charges filed recently against current and former officials in Richwood for how they allegedly handled flood recovery money was a reflection on lack of oversight from his administration.
“I don’t know how in the world you could hang the Richwood situation on me,” Justice said. “I mean, for crying out loud, you’ve got people up there who have done nasty stuff and done stuff in the shadows and everything else. That would have really been tough to be caught by anybody.”
Justice who spoke highly of Richwood in the months after the June 2016 flood said if the charges are true they should have to pay for what they’ve done.
“It certainly looks like people there have taken advantage of a situation to benefit themselves. If that’s the case I hope they get the book thrown at them,” Justice said.
Former mayor Bob Henry Baber is among those charged.
Meeting with Greenbrier County Commission
Justice denied he threatened seasonal shutdown of The Greenbrier in a meeting with the Greenbrier County Commission over the hotel motel tax. Justice said he was talking to commissioners about airport improvements.
“I met with the Greenbrier County Commission to try to encourage them to look at the possibility, different ways, to enhance the airport. That’s what was the primary driver of what the whole thing was,” Justice said.
He said the resort needs to be celebrated not hurt or taken advantage of like a “golden goose.”
Byrd White to the rescue
State Transportation Secretary Byrd White, a longtime personal friend of Justice, apparently had had enough of the questions reporters were asking the governor.
“Let me tell ya, I’ve known this guy since he was skinny and brown hair and I would bet you my house that he hasn’t done anything knowingly wrong,” White said. “All of us skip through life and make some mistakes here and there but I’d be you my house, if you’re willing to take the bet, he hasn’t done anything knowingly wrong.”
Justice later thanked White for his “testimonial.”
Justice did say earlier in the news conference that he’s made some mistakes.
“I guess I’ll make a mistake now and then and then try to correct it,” he said.