CHARLESTON – Donald Trump Jr. has filed a motion to dismiss Don Blankenship’s defamation lawsuit against him.
Trump’s attorneys requested to have the case removed from Mingo Circuit Court to federal court July 26. They filed the Motion to Dismiss and a memorandum supporting that motion Aug. 2.
In his complaint filed April 25 in Mingo Circuit Court, Blankenship claimed the president’s son was part of a conspiracy to keep him from being elected to the U.S. Senate last year. The former Massey Energy CEO said Trump Jr. published a tweet to his 3.5 million followers on May 3, 2018, calling Blankenship a felon.
“Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that Mr. Blankenship was a ‘felon’ after meeting with, and as part of a scheme with, NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee) leaders seeking to prevent Mr. Blankenship's victory in the primary,” the original complaint stated. “Moreover, defendant's defamatory statement was made in conjunction with reference to the mine disaster and thus, had the additional effect, through inference, implication, innuendo and/or insinuation of further defaming Mr. Blankenship by falsely attributing to him responsibility for murder.”
In his motion, Trump Jr. says Blankenship failed to state claims upon which relief can be granted. He says there is no proof of actual malice and that Blankenship didn’t show that Trump Jr. knew the statement was false or made it in reckless disregarded for the truth.
Trump Jr. also says the statement was not directed toward Blankenship, that it was protected as exaggerated rhetoric and that it was substantially true or a reasonable mistake.
“Given plaintiff’s admitted very controversial and public past, a single reference to plaintiff as a ‘felon’ could not have changed his standing or reputation in the mind of a reader,” Trump’s motion states.
“Plaintiff is no more a victim of defamation than any candidate running for political office who has faced combative opposition,” the memorandum supporting Trump’s motion states. “The lamentations of reputational damage ring hollow coming from a man who had admittedly lingered in the public light – by design and by force – for the last forty years.
“As a public figure and a candidate for political office, plaintiff not only ‘voluntarily waived his private status’ and exposed himself to increased risk of injury, but he also had and utilized ‘ready outlets to respond to attacks.’”
In 2015, Blankenship was convicted of one federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. The federal jury found him not guilty of securities fraud and not guilty of making false statements after the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in Raleigh County that left 29 miners dead in 2010. Both of those charges were felonies.
“We did not want to sue Trump Jr., but he left us no choice,” Blankenship told The West Virginia Record when he filed the complaint. “He slandered me just days before an election for a U.S. Senate seat. This is entirely unacceptable as it deprived West Virginia voters of a fair election.
“’Fake News’ – whether spread by CNN, Fox or Trump Jr. – has to be stopped. President Trump himself has said that ‘Fake News’ is an enemy of the people.”
Blankenship filed his lawsuit against Trump Jr. just one month after he filed a $12 billion lawsuit, also in Mingo Circuit Court, claiming national media outlets and leading Republicans intended to defame him in his 2018 U.S. Senate bid. That suit named, among others, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the NRSC as defendants.
Blankenship filed another related lawsuit in May against The Boston Globe. He calls it a case of “Weaponized Defamation.”
In all three of the lawsuits, Blankenship notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators expressed to the media that they did not want him to win the election.
“In reaction to my possibly winning the election, a Political Action Committee apparently controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell launched a $1.3 million negative and false ad campaign against me,” Blankenship said. “However, in the words of the media, I continued to ‘surge’ toward the lead in the race. In fact, I took the lead in most polls including polls taken by my opponents.
He claims the GOP then went to the media for help. That includes Napolitano, who had heard cases by West Virginia Attorney General and New Jersey native (and fellow Republican Senate candidate) Patrick Morrisey. Morrisey eventually won the Republican nomination, but lost to incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in the 2018 general election.
Blankenship also blames government officials for controlling the national media.
In all three of his recently filed cases, Blankenship is being represented by Jeffrey S. Simpkins of Simpkins Law in Williamson as well as Eric P. Early, Jeremy Gray and Kevin Sinclair of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae in Los Angeles. Trump Jr. is being represented by Mark Adkins and Richie Heath of Bowles Rice's Charleston office.
U.S. District Court case number 2:19-cv-00549