On Nov. 1, the Daily Caller published an article claiming I “spent a year in prison for [my] involvement in a deadly mining accident.” I object to the statement as being materially false. Here is a truthful and factual chronicle of past events.
I was never charged with nor convicted of any crime involving the accident at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine. As a matter of fact, the government repeatedly emphasized during my prosecution that none of the charges against me were related to the accident.
UBB was among the most productive and profitable mines in the Appalachian coalfields. Moreover, UBB had experienced only one fatality in 17 years. Massey Energy was the first coal company to win three of MSHA’s coveted mine safety awards in the same year.
Prior to the accident, MSHA regulators required that the UBB mine ventilation plan be changed to prohibit UBB miners from using the belt entry to intake air into the mine. UBB mine managers implored MSHA not to impose the restriction, which cut the mine’s airflow in half — a fact substantiated by the testimony of the government’s lead witnesses during my trial.
Airflow is widely known to be the key element for preventing mine explosions. Tragically, the UBB mine sustained an explosion shortly after the mine airflow was reduced by the MSHA restriction.
MSHA subsequently issued a report attributing the accident to the failure of mine management and the perished miners to properly maintain the mine. Curiously, the MSHA report made no mention of the MSHA restriction reducing the mine airflow. In 2014, I funded and aired a documentary exposing that MSHA had cut the mine airflow in half prior to the accident. The documentary also revealed that natural gas fueled the explosion instead of coal dust as MSHA claimed.
Despite being a political outsider, I am widely recognized as being responsible for the evolvement of West Virginia from a solidly Democratic state in 2004 to a strong Republican state in 2012. Consequently, I have often been at odds with Democratic Party leaders, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
Manchin publicly feigned infuriation over the documentary and proclaimed in the media that I had “blood on [my] hands.” Additionally, Manchin sent a letter to then-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin demanding that I be indicted. Several months later, I was indicted, but not for any crime directly attributable to the UBB mine accident.
The jury acquitted me of all felony charges, which were solely related to U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filings. I was convicted of a misdemeanor charge, namely conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, but not until after the jury deliberated for 10 days and twice told the trial judge that it could not agree on a verdict. A federal magistrate judge has since recommended that the misdemeanor conviction be voided due to prosecutorial misconduct.
In May 2018, I ran in the West Virginia primary election as a Republican candidate for the United States Senate. My candidacy was unique in that I was still serving time at a Las Vegas halfway house as I campaigned for the Republican nomination.
Still, by all appearances and based upon reliable polling data, I was on the verge of winning the primary election. According to media reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted by convening clandestine meetings of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to formulate a plan, including a “menu” of options, to prevent me from winning the Republican nomination.
The plan included a political tactic known as the “wrap-up smear” whereby I would be smeared with falsehoods “merchandised” by and through the media. In the days leading up to the primary election, numerous media organizations, journalists, and political operatives falsely reported that I was a “felon” and “convicted felon.” Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano even claimed on national television that I had gone to prison for manslaughter.
The materially false statements that I am a “felon” or a “convicted felon” have never been meaningfully corrected. Furthermore, there have never been any consequential investigations regarding the MSHA investigation report or the professional misconduct of MSHA investigators, including the destruction of probative documents. Finally, the media has failed to significantly report that a federal magistrate judge has recommended that the misdemeanor conviction be voided.
In short, I would likely be a United States senator today if the media reported the truth about me rather than falsehoods.
Thank you, Daily Caller, for the opportunity to set the record straight.
Don Blankenship is the retired former chairman and president of Massey Energy Company. He has been a significant, longtime financial supporter of the West Virginia Republican Party and of conservative causes. He is seeking the Constitution Party’s 2020 nomination for president of the United States.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.