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Justice Talks Ukraine, Threatens Lawsuit Against Newspaper During COVID-19 Briefing | News, Sports, Jobs

During Monday’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Jim Justice discussed the war in Ukraine and threatened a lawsuit over a newspaper column criticizing the state’s response to the pandemic.

Justice noted West Virginia’s COVID-19 statistics continued to improve, with active cases dropping below 2,000 for the first time since July 28.

The Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID alert map on Monday showed Webster County as orange, the second-highest-risk category, and Clay County in the middle of the scale at gold. Eight other counties were yellow, the second-safest category, and the other 45 were green, the lowest tier on the scale.

Justice said the state is watching the areas where the spread is higher and reiterated his call for people to get vaccinated or boosted against the coronavirus, despite the improving conditions.

“Sure as I know my name, there’s a likelihood that this is not over,” he said.

He also stood by his position that people should choose to get vaccinated and not be required to do so. He brought that up again in reference to a column that appeared in a recent edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in which columnist Phil Kabler wrote about West Virginia having one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in the country.

Kabler said the governor’s “wishy-washy ‘get vaccinated — unless you don’t want to’ messaging” and legislators’ opposition to mask and vaccination requirements means they “bear responsibility for many COVID-19 deaths in West Virginia that could have been prevented .”

“For this man to say that I did not promote the vaccines or the masks, I surely did,” Justice said. “Do I think you should be vaccinated? Sure. Do I think my feelings should be imposed on everyone and with mandates? No way.”

Justice, who has criticized Kabler’s writing in the past and cited several issues he’s had with him, said he plans to file suit against Kabler and the newspaper. But first, he said he will speak with Doug Reynolds, managing partner of HD Media, who owns the paper, and his father, Marshall, “because they’re good people.”

“We’ll deal with it in court,” Justice said. “Now we’ll see what the game is, big boy.”

Justice also announced that two-tenths of a percent of the state’s investments are “in some level of something that is a Russian-backed security.”

An emergency meeting of the state’s Investment Management Board is planned for today to consider a resolution preventing such investments due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of the neighboring Ukraine.

“I’m going to do everything I can to at least push back and make West Virginia’s voice be heard,” Justice said.

The value of the investment is “insignificant,” especially since the value of the ruble has “fallen out of the sky” given economic sanctions against Russia as a result of the invasion, the governor said. The state cannot divest it now “because everything’s frozen on that end anyway,” he said.

Asked by a reporter whether he would consider lowering the gasoline tax to provide West Virginians with relief in the face of rising gasoline prices, Justice said he’s open to all options.

“But from the standpoint of (will it) really help … it’s not going to make much difference,” he said.

Justice said prices could go even higher as the situation continues. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “bad, bad, bad actor” who is nonetheless smart and calculating and taking advantage of America’s perceived weakness in the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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