By August 25, 2017 Read More →

Justice says he’s not Trump/Russia go-between in CNN report

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In response to a report from CNN late Wednesday night, Gov. Jim Justice said through a spokesman Thursday he is not the person from West Virginia who allegedly tried to broker a June 2016 meeting between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Gov. Jim Justice

“He absolutely is not,” Butch Antolini, Justice’s communications director, told the Gazette-Mail.

According to the CNN report, congressional investigators have found an email from Trump’s deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn when he worked on the Trump campaign last year. The email refers to an unnamed individual, identified as being from “WV,” who offered to set up a meeting between Trump’s staff and Putin.

The report cites an anonymous source who said the individual referenced in the email is believed to have political connections in West Virginia.

It also cites intelligence experts as saying the request made by the unidentified West Virginian “fits a pattern of Russians trying to gather human intelligence and seek unwilling – and sometimes unwitting partners – as part of their covert operations.”

Justice has some Russian business ties. In 2015, Justice bought back Bluestone Coal, a McDowell and Wyoming county mining company, from Mechel OAO, a Russian mining and metal company, for $5 million. He sold it to Mechel in 2009 for $436 million in cash and 83.3 million preferred shares of Mechel stock.

Last year, while running for governor as a Democrat, Justice nonetheless advertised his ties to Trump, the Republican presidential nominee. Justice recently announced his switch to the Republican Party at a campaign rally for Trump in Huntington. At that same rally, Trump called the investigation of his campaign’s connections with Russia a “total fabrication.” In an ensuing press conference, Justice also mentioned two occasions in which he met with Trump and members of his administration in Washington D.C.

Within hours of CNN publishing the story, the state Democratic Party issued a news release suggesting, without further evidence, that Justice and state Delegate Riley Moore could be persons of interest in the story. Moore, the nephew of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said he is not the person named in the story.

“No, I’m not the ‘WV’ Kremlin contact mentioned in the CNN story,” he said in an emailed statement. “I find it particularly sad to see the State Democratic Chair dealing in fake news in an attempt to cling to relevancy in public discourse after the humbling election experience in 2016. That said, I can understand why the Chairwoman (Belinda Biafore) is grasping at straws with a release like this after working to elect the first Republican governor in decades.”

The Moore accusation stems from lobbying he did in 2013 for the Podesta Group, representing the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine.

The New York Times reported that the ECMU is a non-profit founded by Vitaly Kalyuzhny, a former senior member of the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

Kalyuzhny also allegedly signed the receipts for payments made to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has faced increasing scrutiny in investigations into Russian meddling in the election.

A follow-up New York Times report from June states Manafort disclosed his consulting firm has received more than $17 million over two years from the Party of Regions.

Moore is one of several lobbyists listed in The Podesta Group filing, one of whose founders chaired Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The firm received $510,000 from the ECMU in 2013, well before either campaign kicked off.

When presented these facts, Moore repeated he has no ties to the Russian government.

“I have never worked for Putin or the Russian government,” he said. “To suggest otherwise is an attempt to score political points and is slanderous nonsense.”

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