By Carol Vaughn —
Gov. Ralph Northam gave a press briefing Tuesday, after health officials cleared him to end an 18-day isolation period — and after news broke that Northam was discussed as a potential target by members of paramilitary groups charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the Michigan governor.
Members of anti-government paramilitary groups implicated in the alleged plot against Whitmer during a June meeting also discussed abducting Northam, an FBI agent testified during a hearing Tuesday in a Grand Rapids, Mich., federal court, according to the Associated Press.
FBI agent Richard Trask testified that the roughly 15 people at the June 15 meeting in Dublin, Ohio, were unhappy with the governors’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam at Tuesday’s briefing said he would not comment in detail about the alleged threat because it is connected to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI.
“The First Lady and I are safe, thanks to the measures taken by the Executive Protection Unit, which is staffed by an extensively trained team of Virginia State Police personnel and the Virginia division of Capitol Police,” Northam said.
“All threats are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated by those law enforcement agencies,” he said, adding, “Fortunately, in regards to today’s developments, there is no imminent danger to me or my family and I am continuing in my work for the Commonwealth as I would any other day.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring responded Tuesday to the threats against Northam uncovered by the FBI, saying, “Words have consequences. When we have a president who regularly spews hate and openly incites violence, people can be put in serious danger. From day one, President Trump has used his platform as Commander-in-Chief to vilify his opponents and to urge his supporters to go after anyone who may disagree with them, and that includes both state and national leaders. This kind of harmful rhetoric further divides our country and it needs to stop now before more Americans are hurt.”
Northam later in the briefing answered a question about a White House statement that condemned the alleged plot but also blamed Whitmer for making allegations about the president encouraging violence.
Northam said last spring, two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing, wearing face coverings, and hand washing, Trump in a tweet “said to liberate Virginia.”
“So that’s an example of mixed messages coming out of Washington, which we have been seeing since the beginning of this pandemic. But words have meaning to people. … When language is used, such as to liberate Virginia, people find meaning in those words and thus these things happen — and that’s regrettable,” Northam said.
Northam urged Virginians to continue taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering.
“When that test comes back positive it is frightening,” he said.
Northam and his wife were tested for the virus after an executive mansion staff member who works closely with them developed symptoms and tested positive.
After Northam and First Lady Pam Northam tested positive, contact tracing by the health department resulted in 65 people who had had close contact with them being told to quarantine for two weeks, but none of the 65 have tested positive and all have completed their isolation period.
Northam attributed that to consistent mask wearing.
“Masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease,” he said.
Virginia’s test positivity rate is currently below 5%, “but now is not the time to get complacent,” Northam said, citing cooler temperatures and the upcoming time change as factors that will limit outdoor gatherings, which are safer.
He noted more than 30 states now have increasing case numbers, and said there are no immediate plans to further ease restrictions in Virginia.
Northam also spoke about several uses designated for federal CARES Act funds in Virginia, including $220 million set aside for K-12 schools; $30 million to fast track local broadband projects; and $12 million to expand rent and mortgage relief.
An announcement will be made soon about $50 million that will go towards hazard pay for home health workers, a vaccination program, and childcare providers, he said.
Northam said he does not have the ability to extend the deadline for voter registration, which is set in state code.
A Verizon internet broadband line was inadvertently cut by workers Tuesday, which was the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
The cut affected the department of elections for hours.
Northam said during the briefing he would support a court order to extend the deadline.
Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced Wednesday morning that Judge John A. Gibney Jr. in the Eastern District of Virginia had approved an agreement extending the deadline for voter registration by two days, through Thursday, Oct. 15 at 11:59 p.m., because of the registration system outage.