CHARLESTON — The 9/11 Families United organization, representing people whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has criticized LIV Golf Tour events bankrolled by a Saudi investment arm as “sportswashing” meant to launder the regime’s human rights record.
This month, The Greenbrier Resort, owned by Gov. Jim Justice’s family, hosted a LIV golf event and Justice was there on a golf car with his well-known dog.
Justice is also a leading candidate for U.S. Senate for West Virginia, potentially serving on committees that influence American policies on international affairs.
He says the LIV Golf event and its context are no big deal.
“Absolutely, Saudi Arabia is a great ally of the United States and I thought the event was great,” he said during a news briefing Wednesday, “and I thought the event was great for West Virginia. It’s just more good stuff, in my opinion, that comes to West Virginia.”
Saudi Arabia nationals living in the United States had interactions with the 9/11 hijackers, according to an FBI report declassified in 2021. Families of victims had long asked for that report to be unveiled. An earlier 9/11 report said Saudi nationals played key roles in funding Al Queda. Like Osama bin Laden,
15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The Saudi government has denied playing a role in the attack.
In another intelligence report declassified in 2021, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi: “The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”
LIV golf, which stands for the Roman numeral 54, the number of holes to be played at its events, is funded through the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia overseen by the crown prince.
The 9/11 Families United group has been consistently critical of the golf tour, describing it as “sportswashing” to wipe away the reputation of human rights abuses.
When LIV Golf and the PGA announced joining forces earlier this year,
9/11 Families United described its members as “shocked and deeply offended.”
The U.S. Department of Justice and members of the U.S. Senate have commenced investigations into the agreement between LIV and PGA.
The LIV Golf Tour event featured a $20 million purse Aug. 4-6 at The Greenbrier, the historic resort that Justice and his family bought in 2010.
Candidate Justice ‘enjoyed the event’
During a Wednesday briefing about state government events, MetroNews asked whether it’s appropriate for a candidate for U.S. Senate to participate in hosting an event associated with the Saudi government.
MetroNews also asked whether Justice talked with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The governor did not address whether he had discussions with Saudi representatives.
Justice acknowledged going several days to the event, which coincided with a special session of the West Virginia Legislature. He said it was a good time.
“I was there on two or three different occasions; enjoyed the event. Absolutely, without any question all of the people that were there — and there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people there — they were having a really great time. They really enjoyed the days of great golf and everything that was going on there,” he said.
“Not one comment, not a single comment to me in the negative from a single person.”
Justice was recruited to run for U.S. Senate by members of the current leadership and has said he does not intend to self-fund the campaign.
‘What talks did he have with the Saudis?’
Justice seems to be in such a precarious financial position that any relief provided by a cash cow like LIV Golf would help, said West Virginia Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, a regular critic of
“As you know, Gov. Justice never placed his businesses in a blind trust, so has no ground to disassociate himself from decisions to host the Saudi Government’s LIV business. Given the financial dire straights of Jim Justice as he runs for U.S. Senate, it is curious that LIV (owned by an enemy of freedom) would be interested in the Greenbrier,” said Tarr, R-Putnam.
Tarr also wants to know about Justice’s interactions with LIV Golf officials.
“Another good question about Jim being at the Greenbrier for the LIV tournament is, ‘What conversations did he have with the Saudis on how else they can support his effort to become a U.S. senator aside from directing funds through the Greenbrier? How much did they pay?’
“Either way the direct benefit to Jim’s business, and by proxy him, conjures analogy to Joe Biden and his questionable interests in China and the Ukraine.”
Tarr said the governor would have been better off paying closer attention to the concurrent special legislative session, where 44 bills in his name were on the agenda.
“It’s no surprise that the governor chose to meet with the Saudi government executives for his business rather than be present during a session of the legislature. He is rarely present even when the Saudis are not here. I don’t think anyone should expect him to be any more present for the role of a U.S. senator.”
The campaign for Congressman Alex Mooney, Justice’s main competition in the primary election, chose not to comment for this story.
Club for Growth, the political action committee that has said it will support Mooney with millions of dollars and oppose Justice, also opted not to comment.
‘This is not a regime to be pulling the rope with’
Former West Virginia Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, a Greenbrier County resident, said the Saudi golf event doesn’t seem right.
“It depends on if you think the Saudis expect anything in return for their investment at America’s resort. They are spending tens of billions worldwide and tens of millions here in West Virginia. Is that for the love of the game?” asked Baldwin, a Democrat who was defeated in 2020.
“I think they want to win friends and buy influence. That concerns me for the future of our country. The Saudis are no friend of freedom. This is not a regime we want to be pulling the rope with.”
Unlike Justice’s assessment that LIV Golf was a big success at The Greenbrier, Baldwin said local participation seemed subdued compared to years past when the resort hosted The Greenbrier Classic PGA event.
“Fewer volunteers, fewer spectators and no local vendors. LIV brought in their own vendors from overseas. The PGA Tour would hire locals for food operations or let nonprofits do food to raise money,” Baldwin said.
“I understand LIV bought out the entire hotel but only used about half of the rooms. Dustin Johnson’s team held an indoor clinic for a group of kids. That was great for those kids, but that was about it in terms of outreach.”