CHARLESTON – Don Blankenship says he’s running for the U.S. Senate because corruption is rampant in the United States.
“I saw what happened in the courtroom, and I saw how the criminal system works,” he said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. “I saw how the politicians and the government behaved in terms of Upper Big Branch.
“It’s much deeper than them not understanding or there being differences of opinion. There is tremendous corruption. They’d do anything. They basically kidnapped me. They have no qualms about any type of behavior.”
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, announced his candidacy Nov. 29 for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Democrat Joe Manchin. Blankenship will face U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the Republican primary.
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.
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.
“It’s just a learning experience I went through,” Blankenship said of the court system and the appeal process. “I had had experiences in civil court system, and I thought the criminal justice system would be more fair. But it isn’t.
“The system is extremely corrupted. We all should have seen it as far back as the Supreme Court Bush-Gore decision. The most remarkable thing I can say today is that the court system as political as legislature. And there is something fundamentally wrong with that.”
But Blankenship says the corruption that he believes prevails in courthouses and government bodies permeates the fabric of America.
“The corruption is in the entire U.S. system, and the problem is what it is doing to the American quality of life,” he said. “It is frightening how quickly we are falling behind of China on so many fronts.
“The problem we’ve got is that we no longer comply with the laws we have, and we have good laws for the most part. But, Congress doesn’t do that at all. And if they don’t, the citizenry feels like they don’t have to.
“If we don’t begin to base our legislation and laws and behavior on what’s good for the country rather than what’s good to get re-elected. No one else will be as motivated as I am to end the corruption.”
Blankenship said he shares a lot of ideas with President Trump.
“What he’s trying to do and what he believes is very much in line with what I believe, especially in terms of illegal immigration, trade policy and regulations,” he said. “To me, illegal means illegal. But that clearly is not the case with more than half of Congress.”
Blankenship said his experiences growing up in West Virginia and working his way up to lead Massey Energy will benefit him in Congress.
“I have had far more experience of dealing with the government than the other candidates,” he said. “I know what the government can do to job creation. I know how corrupt the government is. And more than anyone else in the race, I know what it’s like to be poor, what it’s like to work to get ahead and what it’s like to have success.
“I mean, I know what it’s like to use an outhouse. I know what the Sears Roebuck catalog was used for. I grew up in West Virginia and fought the far left and try to create wealth in West Virginia.
“I know what it’s like to be targeted by the government in terms of criticism and false criminal charges. I understand what we could do to cause our government to be more citizen-friendly.”
He said he believes Manchin and Jenkins both have been in government too long.
Look at what West Virginia was when Manchin became a politician and what it is today,” Blankenship said. “I don’t think anybody believes a United States senator should say someone has blood on their hands before a trial.
He behaves like a child oftentimes. We all have emotions and we all have feelings, but he behaves childishly when the chips are down. That’s bad for West Virginia and bad for the country. You should keep your head up and do the right thing. He doesn’t even believe in the right to a fair trial or proper investigation.
“I have to do some research on Jenkins, but he’s basically a junior Manchin. He’s never had quite the success that Manchin has had, but he’s of the same mindset. He believes the wrong things. We’re not going to do any better under Jenkins than we have under Manchin.”
As for Morrisey, Blankenship said he hasn’t dealt with him much.
“Morrisey came around later, and I don’t know a lot about him,” he said. “I’ve met him a few time, and he’s a nice fellow. But, we don’t need another lawyer.”
Blankenship said he doesn’t expect to do a lot of fundraising for his campaign.
“If people want to contribute, that’s fine,” he said. “But they need to know they aren’t contributing to someone they can have any influence with. No one will be able to buy influence. I’ll make clear what my views are. I’m a competitionist, not a free trader. I want to make it possible for United States workers to compete. That means by having both balanced regulations and some sort of system that prevents us from buying products made with slave labor.”
Blankenship also said he expects to do a lot of television and social media advertising.
“I’m not a great speaker, I’ll be the first to admit that,” he said. “I’m not going to be one to go out and stump. I’m also not the best at remembering names, shaking hands, things like that.
“And, I will be well behind after 30 years of untruthful, negative press about me. There’s a lot to be made up.
“It’s hard to win an election telling the truth, but we’ll find out if I can. I wouldn’t lie to stay out of prison, and I’ll always do what I believe to be right and what I believe is true. I’m America first. I’ve seen too much suffering in southern West Virginia and other parts of the country.”
But Blankenship said he will campaign.
“I’ll be here in West Virginia quite a bit,” he said. “I don’t think you can touch enough people shaking hands between now and the primary to do much, but I’ll certainly do some of that.
“It’s hard to win the race when you aren’t experienced. But of the four people running in the Republican primary and Manchin, I know I am the better candidate. West Virginia will be better off if I’m the one elected.”
Blankenship also responded to comments from West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore’s comments saying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recruited Blankenship to run against and attack Manchin. Manchin had referenced the Kentucky Republican as well, saying he “would not be distracted by Mitch McConnell’s backroom deals.”
Blankenship said that idea was “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I have no idea why they dreamed up such craziness except they are paranoid that the truth is on their heels,” Blankenship said. “Instead of these paranoia-driven comments. Manchin should instead be explaining why he helped (President) Obama cover-up the real reason 29 miners were killed.
“He should also explain why he would campaign with and support Hillary Clinton who had said she would destroy coal miners’ jobs. Joe Manchin is a tyrant and a coward who will do or say anything to keep his job. He does not care at all whether West Virginians keep theirs.
“What really happened in the ‘backroom’ was that Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) shredded documents, made charts unreadable, altered investigator reports, and came up with a plan to blame the Upper Big Branch miners for killing themselves. They did all of this to hide that they were responsible for what they themselves say was a ‘defective ventilation plan.’ A fact that was edited out of their report when it was ‘fixed.’”
Blankenship had more harsh words for Manchin.
“Manchin’s MSHA friends have blood on their hands and he knows it,” Blankenship said. “Manchin adamantly says he will not criticize MSHA. What kind of a person refuses to criticize a government agency that caused the death of 29 coal miners? The answer is a very bad and heartless one.”