MARMET, W.Va.—Sen. Joe Manchin said "it could have been anybody" who requested a personal $3 million "Governor's Helicopter" for him with opioid settlement funding while he was governor of West Virginia.
The Democratic incumbent also told this Free Beacon reporter, "Honey, you can't believe everything you read."
The request to use part of a multimillion dollar settlement from Purdue Pharma for its misleading claims about the addictiveness of OxyContin on a "Governor's Helicopter" raised a "RED Flag" in Manchin's office in 2009.
"Governor wants settlement funding dedicated to purchase a new helicopter," according to the list of funding requests sent by his office.
The governor's office specifically asked, "under what circumstances would a helicopter be allowed under the stipulations of the settlement."
On Saturday, Manchin denied he ever requested a helicopter, blamed others, said, "it wasn't me," said, "it could have been anybody," and suggested the Free Beacon made the story up.
The Free Beacon asked Manchin at a campaign event at the Marmet recreation center about the opioid settlement, and why he called the story a "lie" if it was in a memo that was circulated by his staff.
"If you're referring to—I've seen it—if I said it or directed it, no, not at all," Manchin said. "The bottom line is—"
"You didn't request a personal helicopter?" the Free Beacon asked.
"No governor could do that," Manchin said.
"Well, it says ‘Governor's Helicopter' right here," the Free Beacon said, pointing to a copy of the memo.
Manchin then told the Free Beacon to hold on while he completed interviews with local press.
After returning to answer the question, Manchin said: "So real quick. First of all, I know what you're asking about, I've heard about it, Okay? And I said this is crazy because anybody who knows how state government works—agencies, I don't know which agency would have requested what, but I can tell you the two agencies that basically use helicopters all the time and that's the divisions that always have done, it's the State Police and DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. I've never heard, basically. I understand what you're saying what is said, I don't know why that would have been put in that way, it wasn't requested for me."
"So, you're saying it was lower aides?" the Free Beacon said.
"No, no, no, it could have been anybody," Manchin said. "It wasn't me. I didn't direct anybody. You don't have a governor's helicopter. You don't have a governor's airplane."
"But who would have requested it?" the Free Beacon asked. "Because it's right here [pointing to the memo]."
"Honey, you can't believe everything you read," Manchin said. "You might have wrote that."
"I didn't—I wrote it?" the Free Beacon said, in disbelief. "Norb Federspiel wrote it. It's right here, your Division of Criminal Justice services. Carte Goodwin—"
"It wasn't me, Okay," Manchin said.
"He was your chief counsel correct?" the Free Beacon said of Goodwin. "He sent this memo to Norb, and Norb commented, this was directly from the governor's office. Your office."
"Do you want to hear the truth, or not?" Manchin said.
"I do. This is according to this memo," the Free Beacon said.
"I'm just trying to tell you the truth," Manchin replied. "I'm just trying to tell you it doesn't come from me."
"But it came from your office," the Free Beacon said.
"That's fine. It never happened," Manchin said of the helicopter purchase. "You know it never happened."
"I know it never happened but you still wanted to use—"
"No, you can't do it," Manchin said,
"Somebody wanted a ‘Governor's Helicopter,'" the Free Beacon said. "You were the governor."
"It sounds like you wanted one," Manchin said, as he walked away.
Manchin is correct that the helicopter was never purchased, because the request raised a "RED Flag" in his office.
The report is based on a memo that was sent by Carte Goodwin, Manchin's chief counsel to Janet Shelton, who was Manchin's Executive Secretary.
Goodwin received the memo from Joe Thornton, Manchin's cabinet secretary for military affairs and public safety, who had said Manchin's office was taking the lead and thinking "out of the box a little bit" on how to spend the settlement money.
Thornton attached a list of project suggestions to be financed by the settlement, and specifically said, "these projects are separate" from requests made by the State police, contrary to Manchin's claim that the helicopter request could have come from the State police.
"They are not inclusive of State police requests for use of the funding, these projects are separate from their list of desires," Thornton said.
The list was sent to J. Norbert Federspiel, the director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, for legal review. Federspiel was to give his opinion on which items would likely be approved for law enforcement purposes.
The request that received a "RED Flag" was entitled, "Governor's Helicopter."
"Governor wants settlement funding dedicated to purchase a new helicopter," the memo states. "This request needs not only to determine the ability to fund, but under what circumstances would a helicopter be allowed under the stipulations of the settlement. Call me if you have questions or this doesn't make sense. $3 million."
Federspiel responded to the request by writing, "First off it cannot be the Governor's Helicopter."
"If it is used predominantly by State Police for law enforcement activities, it is probably justifiable," he said. "Assurances and documentation of usage for law enforcement purposes would be a must. I don't know what percentage of use the Governor could make of such a thing, but at very least I'm sure that [West Virginia State Police] WVSP would need to us [sic] it the majority of time in order to fly."
"Beware of public perception and awareness," he added.
Earlier during Saturday's campaign event, Manchin said his Republican opponent Patrick Morrisey repeatedly calling him a "dishonest Washington liberal" during their debate last week nearly led him to blows.
President Trump held a rally for Morrisey in Huntington, W.Va., Friday, where he admired Manchin's abilities as a politician.
"There's nobody smoother than Joe," Trump said.