CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Criminal defense attorneys for Gov. Jim Justice say a federal probe has ended without charges against the governor or his family.
Attorney George Terwilliger led a press conference of about 15 minutes, along with attorneys Mike Carey and Steve Ruby. All are former federal prosecutors.
Justice did not attend. Terwilliger said the governor asked him to handle it.
“The Justices are good people who strive to do the right things for the right reasons,” Terwilliger said. “They deserve to be free now of the cloud that this investigation has put over them.”
Terwilliger cited a telephone conversation with a career federal prosecutor to say the investigation had come to an end without any charges.
“I am pleased to announce that yesterday we were informed by career justice department prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice that the investigation has concluded with no allegation of any wrongdoing whatsoever,” Terwilliger said.
He almost immediately changed the phrasing of what he’d said: “They *found* no wrongdoing.”
He acknowledged there is no official paperwork, including a letter of declination, that would indicate that. He said that is unnecessary because investigations sometimes just taper off without conclusion.
“Sometimes, you never find out what’s actually happened or what’s been decided but instead the investigation just kind of peters out and the cloud is left hanging over somebody’s head for a long period of time,” Terwilliger said.
“So we’re grateful that career people in the Justice Department saw fit to communicate to us forthrightly and directly that the investigation is over. We don’t need a letter. We know what we have and we’re glad to have it.”
Asked after the press conference had ended and as he was walking out of the room if there could be any mistake or if the lack of official documentation could mean the possible rekindling of an investigation later, Terwilliger shook his head and said “no.”
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) January 7, 2020
Terwilliger is a former United States Deputy Attorney General now leading the white collar practice at the McGuireWoods firm in Washington, D.C.
Terwilliger leads McGuireWoods’ Strategic Response and Crisis Management practice, having made a career of representing corporations nationally and worldwide.
He has also been helping with the governor’s defense in the ongoing lawsuit over whether Justice meets the state Constitution’s residency requirement.
His services are to Justice as a private individual — and to the Justice family.
Even so, the press conference was announced by the Governor’s Office through state government email, was held in the Governor’s Reception Room and was streamed over the Governor’s Office social media accounts.
The press conference with the lawyers came the day before the annual State of the State address given by the governor to assess how West Virginia is doing. It’s a ceremonial opportunity to spotlight new initiatives and to take credit for prior efforts.
Justice is also in the heat of a race for re-election. He has competitors in the Republican primary, coming up in May, as well as Democrats lining up to challenge.
No one ever officially announced a federal investigation involving Justice. The investigation was apparent because of the revelation of subpoenas involving state government agencies.
Some state government agencies were subpoenaed several months ago with questions about their interactions with Justice companies.
The Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice signed off on those subpoenas, which referenced a grand jury in Charleston. Also involved were federal prosecutors in West Virginia. Terwilliger did not make clear Tuesday morning which part of the federal prosecution system he spoke with.
The subpoenas generally focused on the intersections between state government and the private business holdings of the governor’s family.
Not only is Justice the governor but he also has an estimated worth of $1.5 billion with holdings in coal, timber, agriculture and recreation. His annual ethics disclosure lists more than 90 companies. The many prominent roles have led to conflicts in court.
The subpoenas to state agencies were obtained last spring through Freedom of Information Act requests by MetroNews.
Subpoenas went to the state Department of Commerce, the state Department of Revenue and the state Tax Department last May.
For the latter two agencies, federal investigators requested tax information and communications applying to a list of more than 90 businesses owned by Governor Justice and his family.
The state Department of Commerce earlier confirmed receiving a subpoena. That one is a little different, focused on The Greenbrier, The Greenbrier Classic golf event and Old White Charities, which is a nonprofit associated with the others. All are led by Justice.
Terwilliger said sponsorship money to the golf tournament dried up, “which hurt the charitable goals of that considerable effort.” But Old White Charities has been in the red for years prior to this and has been providing minimal charitable donations.
Terwilliger also said the swirling allegations “cost people in private business their jobs when business partners pulled back upon hearing the news of the investigation.”
Additional subpoenas were widely rumored to have gone to private citizens but none were confirmed on the record.
Terwilliger, standing behind a podium, described “a terrible toll” of the investigation “on many innocent people.”
“This never should have happened. All that we’ve seen shows a hard-working family led by the governor who cares deeply about the people of the state and tries to put their best efforts first,” Terwilliger said.
“Even if you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s tough to be involved in a federal investigation. It’s stressful. It’s expensive. Just the existence of an investigation hurts your reputation. It makes people who’ve been your friends or business partners just look at you differently. It damages relationships.
“The Justice family has been through that and more since the subpoenas were reported last year.”