Federal prosecutors have closed a nearly year-long investigation into West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s administration and his family business empire without bringing any criminal charges, a Justice family attorney said Tuesday morning.
Justice did not join his personal attorneys — George J. Terwilliger III, Michael Carey and Steve Ruby — for the announcement, although the news conference was held in the reception room of the Governor’s Office in the state Capitol.
“Governor Justice, the Justice family and the Justice companies have been cleared of any wrongdoing,” Terwilliger told reporters.
He said the governor’s legal team was told in a phone call that the investigation is over and that federal officials did not provide any confirmation of that in writing.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, would not comment on the announcement from the the governor’s attorney.
The announcement was made a week into the new year, one in which Justice is seeking reelection, and just a day before the state’s 2020 legislative session is to start. On Wednesday evening, Justice is to deliver the annual State of the State address, the traditional forum for governors to announce their agenda for the session and the coming year.
DOJ public corruption investigators had issued at least three subpoenas to state agencies — the Commerce Department, the Department of Revenue, and the Tax Division — seeking records about the state’s dealings with The Greenbrier resort, which Justice owns, and about a settlement Justice family companies made to resolve millions of dollars in overdue taxes.
“The direction we received from the governor and the Justice family was indeed to cooperate fully, tell them anything they need to know, give them any documents they need to have,” Terwilliger said. “We have nothing to hide. That’s exactly what we did.”
Speaking on behalf of the governor, his businesses and his family, Terwilliger said the investigation never should have happened, because the Justices are good, hardworking people.
“Even now, even though you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s still tough to be involved in a federal investigation,” Terwilliger said. “It’s stressful. It’s expensive. Just the existence of the investigation hurts your reputation. It makes people who have been your friends or business partners just look at you differently. It damages relationships. The Justice family has been through all of that and more since the subpoenas were reported last year.”
The billionaire governor still faces a lawsuit over not living in Charleston, as governors are required to do under the state constitution. And lawmakers this session are expected to consider ethics reform legislation that would require governors to put their holdings into blind trusts, something Justice has refused to do with The Greenbrier and with his family’s coal operations.
“Regardless of the outcome of the DOJ’s look into the Justice family affairs, a blind trust law is still necessary,” said state Sen. William Ihlenfeld, a former federal prosecutor and Ohio County Democrat who is proposing ethics reform legislation. “The conflicts of interest haven’t gone away for this governor, and they will surely exist for future governors, just not to the extent that they do for Justice.”
Last year, a joint investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica detailed several conflicts of interest surrounding the governor’s ownership of The Greenbrier. They also reported on how Justice continues to guide his family’s business empire, despite saying he would be a full-time governor.
Terwilliger also represents Justice in the residency lawsuit.
Terwilliger is a partner at McGuire Woods, a Washington, D.C., law firm. He is the co-head of the firm’s white-collar practice and “strategic response and crisis management” practice group, according to the firm’s website. He also served as a deputy attorney general for President George H.W. Bush.
Carey previously worked as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, most notably overseeing the prosecution and conviction of former Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. for corruption in 1990. He currently is a partner at Carey, Scott, Douglas & Kessler PLLC, in Charleston, according to the firm’s website.
Ruby previously worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. He led the prosecution of former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship, after the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and now works at Bailey Glasser, in Charleston.