Donald Trump’s attacks on the justice system are helping this ex-con coal baron’s campaign

Who’s to blame for the blast that killed 29 of Don Blankenship’s miners? The deep state, of course.

On the eighth anniversary of the worst American mine disaster in half a century, Don Blankenship was camped out at a diner in Elizabeth, West Virginia, explaining to an audience of two why his recently completed stint in federal prison made him more appealing to voters.

The trip to B-Bopp, a ’40s-themed joint about the length of a Mack truck, had been advertised as a chance to throw questions at the man whose campaign for US Senate has thrown Republican operatives into crisis mode. But only a pair of white-haired men had stuck around for lunch with Blankenship and his entourage. “We was told we come down here, we’re gonna eat,” said one of them, a bespectacled activist with a Trump hat and a prospector beard.

The 68-year-old Blankenship is a large man with thinning hair, a double-wide chin, and a thick brown mustache. During his 18 years as CEO of the Appalachian coal giant Massey Energy, he cultivated a reputation as a domineering taskmaster whom subordinates crossed at their peril—a boss who bragged of having been shot at by his own employees, a millionaire who allegedly ripped a coat rack out of the wall to prove a point to his housekeeper. But Blankenship is so soft-spoken in person it sometimes sounds as if he is talking to his shirt. He struggles at small talk. He’d rather discuss his ads.

“As I say in one of my commercials, it should be easy to choose between me and the others,” he said, as he waited on his egg sandwich, “because the enemies I have are the very enemies of West Virginia—Obama and Hillary.”

Two years ago, Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws in the lead up to the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Massey-owned Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine. Twenty-nine miners died in the blast. Although he was never charged in connection with the explosion itself, four subsequent investigations reached the same conclusion: Massey’s emphasis on profits over safety had created a perfect storm of hazards that made the disaster possible. Prosecutors had aimed to send Blankenship to prison for 30 years on a handful of charges, the most serious of which was making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission about Massey’s safety record (a felony). After he was found guilty on a single misdemeanor charge, the judge handed down the statutory maximum. Blankenship went from being a merely polarizing figure in the state to a pariah.

But that was then. Now, Blankenship isn’t running from his conviction—he’s largely running on it.

Source: Donald Trump’s attacks on the justice system are helping this ex-con coal baron’s campaign

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