The Department of Justice is rejecting claims made by a former U.S. Senate candidate that he was treated unfairly by federal prosecutors for a tragic mining accident that resulted in 29 deaths.
Don Blankenship — a former energy executive who ran for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia immediately after serving time in prison — was not prejudiced by federal prosecutors, according to a finding by the Justice Department. The internal report, made public in late September, throws cold water on Blankenship’s claims that his conviction stemming from the deadly mine disaster was the result of intentional malice by federal prosecutors.
The issue dates back to the roughly eight years ago. Blankenship at the time served as CEO of Massey Energy, which owned the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The coal mine suffered a tragic disaster in April 2010 when an explosion caused the deaths of 29 miners. A years-long investigation by federal prosecutors ultimately resulted in Blankenship being held responsible for the accident, finding him guilty of violating safety rules. He was sentenced to one year in prison and was released in 2017. (RELATED: Blankenship: DOJ Investigating My Prosecution For Withholding Evidence)
Blankenship has maintained his innocence and his lawyers have claimed that prosecutors withheld key evidence during trial that could have exonerated him.
However, the DOJ has rejected these claims.
A report by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) determined that Blankenship’s allegations of misconduct were “without merit.” Investigators additionally found that the government did not withhold exculpatory emails; did not make false statements regarding Blankenship’s role in the company’s budget procedure; and that there was no evidence to support the allegation that a regulatory employee destroyed pertinent documents after the mine disaster.
The investigation’s findings throw cold water on Blankenship’s claims that he was a victim of the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
After serving a one-year sentence, Blankenship went on to mount an unsuccessful — but memorable — run for a Senate seat in the West Virginia Republican primary. The former energy executive made headlines with his unorthodox television ads and his dubbing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “cocaine Mitch.”
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