CHARLESTON – Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is running for Joe Manchin’s U.S. Senate seat.
Blankenship was sentenced to a one-year sentence on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge for the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County that killed 29 miners. A federal jury had convicted Blankenship of the one misdemeanor count, while acquitting him on felony charges of securities fraud and making false statements. He finished serving that one-year federal sentence on May 10.
Blankenship and Manchin have been vocal critics of each other. Manchin was governor in 2010, and he was critical of Blankenship then. Blankenship has accused Manchin of being central in a political push against him.
Blankenship discussed the possibility of running for the seat this summer.
“It’s always a possibility," Blankenship said July 13 during an appearance on 580 Live with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones on 580 AM WCHS. "But more than anything, I’m just still trying to figure out how to get the truth out about UBB (Upper Big Branch) and, of course, I do have a lot of love and interest in West Virginia.
"When you see we’re still 50th after all of these years, it doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get off the floor. It does cause one to stop and think if he can make a difference or not.
“If I could get some momentum, some help, I might have a chance at winning a Republican primary, particularly. I assume (U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin would love to see me get in the race because he would probably think I would be more easily beatable than the others.”
Congressman Evan Jenkins, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and former coal miner Bo Copley already have announced plans to run for the Senate seat currently occupied by Democrat Joe Manchin, who seeks re-election. Manchin will face primary competition from environmental activist Paula Jean Swearengin, who already has been endorsed by the Brand New Congress political action committee formed by former staff members and supporters of Bernie Sanders.
"I’m not a politician, as you know,” Blankenship said. “I’m not a great speaker and so forth that politicians need to be good at. I do think I could help West Virginia, quite easily, move up from 50th."
His legal team went to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Justices to take up an appeal of his criminal mine safety conviction. They said the U.S. District Court in Charleston and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., both erred in rulings, and they claimed Blankenship was a victim of politics.
Last month, the Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear Blankenship’s appeal.
Blankenship’s team had said both courts disregarded legal precedent about the meaning of “criminal willfulness” so that it could “dramatically expand” the liability of officials. The petition also says Blankenship was the victim of a conspiracy among Democratic political leaders, mentioning President Obama, Sen. Joe Manchin and former Sen. Jay Rockefeller
“This case stemmed from a rush to judgment at the highest levels of the federal government,” Blankenship’s attorney Bill Taylor wrote. “It was permeated throughout with unchecked abuses of power by prosecutors intent on securing a conviction by any means possible in order to assign to petitioner blame for a terrible tragedy. This prosecution begs for scrutiny by this court.
“Any hope of a fair and impartial investigation was dashed almost immediately. Before investigators even were able to enter the mine, President Obama declared from the White House that the tragedy was ‘a failure first and foremost of management’ and that the mine’s owners needed to be ‘held accountable for decisions they made and preventative measures they failed to take.”
Blankenship’s legal team also says the U.S. Attorney’s Office produced dozens of memos that were not disclosed to them before trial. They say the memos included 10 about key government witnesses who testified against Blankenship at trial.
“But these legal issues pale in their importance to most Americans versus the issues that the cert petition makes clear only in its introduction,” Blankenship wrote in his statement. “It should be hard for Americans to believe (for example) that an Assistant U.S. Attorney actually argued in a federal court that because my free speech ‘troubles the U.S.’ my liberties should be restrained while I awaited trial.
“The American public should be concerned when federal prosecutors argue and a judge (Berger) agrees that an American who claims that the U.S. government has issued a false investigation report on a tragedy such as UBB should be treated differently under the law than other Americans. They should pay close attention when a U.S. Senator (Manchin) with no mining experience says before trial that he believes an American has ‘blood on his hands.’”
Blankenship said people should question why he was incarcerated before an appeal after being convicted of a non-violent white collar misdemeanor.
“It should concern all Americans when prosecutors say a defendant's free speech ‘troubles the U.S.’ and he then becomes the only misdemeanor at a federal prison housing more than 2,000 inmates,” Blankenship wrote. “It should get our attention when after more than four and one half years of investigation and a two-month trial, the U.S. government could not convict me of a felony and yet the U.S. prosecutors rushed to ‘60 Minutes’ to declare that I was like a ‘drug kingpin’ running a ‘criminal enterprise.’
“These prosecutors were not only allowed to exercise their free speech without being indicted they have special protections under American law, making it nearly impossible to successfully pursue legal actions against them.”
Morrisey isued a statement about Blankenship's entry into the race.
“Everyone has a right to run for public office," he said. "I welcome anyone into this contest, but I will continue to run on my positive record of obtaining conservative results for coal miners and West Virginia taxpayers, fighting for the unborn, protecting gun rights, and ridding the state of this terrible opioid epidemic.”