- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2018

West Virginia Senate hopeful Don Blankenship claimed this week that the Justice Department is taking another look at the prosecution that sent him to federal prison for a year in connection with the Upper Big Branch mine explosion of 2010.

Mr. Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, which lost 29 of its miners in the blast, was convicted for conspiring to violate mine safety standards in connection with the incident. But ever since then he’s maintained that federal regulators were the ones truly responsible for the explosion, and that his prosecution, conviction and imprisonment were the result of an Obama administration conspiracy that sought to demonize the coal industry and turn Mr. Blankenship, a Republican and a powerful figure in West Virginia politics, into a national scapegoat.

The Justice Department would not confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation on Thursday morning, but Mr. Blankenship says his attorneys have been given new information that shows federal authorities are reopening the case.

“It has already been established beyond all doubt that the prosecution in my case withheld information from my attorneys and me, that should have been provided before my trial. The United States Department of Justice has, since my trial, provided my attorneys with numerous reports and other information not previously disclosed. These materials should have been provided to me pretrial,” he said.

“Because of this withheld information, it my understanding from my attorneys that the actions of the prosecution are being reviewed by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility,” Mr. Blankenship continued. “I look forward to the report from OPR’s investigation, which I hope will be issued in the near future. From what I know about what was withheld, I fully expect that report will conclude that the actions of the prosecution violated what the law and Department of Justice policy require.”

Mr. Blankenship has put in a strong showing in the West Virginia GOP Senate primary. Polls have shown him neck and neck with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the general election.

As for the Upper Big Branch disaster, Thursday marks eight years to the day since the blast.

“Today we remember the 29 brave, patriotic miners we lost at Upper Big Branch. These men were proud fathers, honest neighbors, strong brothers & sweet sons. 8 years later & we continue to honor their sacrifice & pray for their loved ones,” Mr. Manchin said on Twitter.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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