Ex-con Don Blankenship responds to ‘lies’ about him by asking court to invalidate his guilty verdict

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Don Blankenship speaks at a town hall meeting at West Virginia University on March 1, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Don Blankenship, the convicted former coal baron who is now seeking the Republican nomination in the West Virginia Senate primary, plans to file a motion on Tuesday to try to have a 2015 guilty verdict against him invalidated, even though he lost a similar bid last October to have the Supreme Court review the conviction.

Blankenship is currently on probation after serving one year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards. In a press release published Monday announcing the pending motion to overturn the guilty verdict, Blankenship’s campaign website states: “Lies about Don do not serve any good for West Virginia or its miners.”

Blankenship, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in the statement that there is no way to predict the timing of any decision in response to his request to have the verdict “invalidated.” But the former Massey Energy CEO said his attorneys tell him that they expect the case will likely be “nullified or dismissed.”

A successful bid to get the guilty verdict nullified or dismissed could help Blankenship’s chances in a general election against Manchin if he wins the Republican primary.

The court motion also appears to be an effort to change the narrative away from a GOP-funded advertising campaign against Blankenship’s bid for the Republican nomination. Many Republicans believe a Blankenship victory in the May 8 primary could further embarrass the political party that has seen extremists win primaries across the nation.

As the statement released Monday indicates, Blankenship’s campaign will air TV ads “in the near future” about his efforts to overturn the conviction.

A federal court sentenced Blankenship to a one-year prison term in April 2016, six years after an explosion ripped through Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 workers. Blankenship was found guilty of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety rules. He was not accused of direct responsibility for the accident — the deadliest in American coal mining in about 40 years. But the disaster prompted the inquiry that ultimately led to his conviction.

Blankenship was released from prison in May 2017. His period of supervised release ends May 9, the day after the Republican primary.

While in prison, Blankenship described himself as a “political prisoner.” In Monday’s statement, he predicted more information about his criminal trial will be forthcoming over the next few months to demonstrate his innocence. He argued “a large quantity of documents were withheld by the prosecutors that they were required to turn over” to his attorneys.

Blankenship is seeing a surge in popularity. Polls commissioned by Blankenship’s primary opponents — Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — show Blankenship is within striking distance of the lead.

His popularity is starting to worry top Republicans. The GOP fears the self-financed ex-convict is too toxic to win the November general election against Manchin, who is considered vulnerable because President Trump won the state by 40 percent in 2016.

In response, the normally pro-pollution GOP has begun running ads pretending to care about the environment to attack Blankenship.

As Politico reported on Sunday, the “Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention,” and created a “secret” front group called “Mountain Families PAC” to run ads against him. The ads are attacking Blankenship for releasing toxic coal sludge.

In a separate statement posted to his campaign website on Monday, Blankenship said the “Republican Party swampers in Washington have come to the surface to oppose my candidacy for the U.S. Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “is likely lying when he says he fears I will not be able to defeat Joe Manchin in the fall,” Blankenship said. “If he is not lying, he certainly has no idea what the political realities are in West Virginia. The Never Trump movement has turned into the Never Blankenship movement.”

Ever since his conviction, Blankenship has constantly attacked the news media, similar to President Trump’s anti-press strategy as a candidate and since taking over the presidency.

“The media’s fake news is a discredit to the journalist profession. Some journalists have no standards at all,” Blankenship’s press release said, with no reference to any specific news articles.

In his statement, Blankenship added that Republicans and the news media “like to spread the rumor that my candidacy is akin to that of Roy Moore.”

“This is nonsense. Roy Moore’s accusers were women and teenage girls,” he said. “My accusers are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I was imprisoned for a misdemeanor based on false charges and a political prosecution.”