Blankenship unleashes Twitter-storm aimed at Manchin, Feds

By LINDA HARRIS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The war of words that’s erupted between former Massey EnergyCEO Don Blankenship and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stops short of drawing blood. Barely.

Blankenship, 67, spent a year in federal custody for conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws, a misdemeanor, in the April 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that claimed the lives of 29 miners. He’d been in custody since May 2016, held first at a minimum security correctional facility in California and later transferred to a federal halfway house in Arizona. He ‘d been under home confinement in the days leading up to his release.

Blankenship celebrated his newfound freedom with a Twitter-storm, releasing nearly a dozen posts to his Twitter account beginning at 11 a.m. EST May 10, the day of his release. After a brief hiatus, his rapid-fire Tweets resumed about that same time 24 hours later.

His animus was evenly split between the federal Mine Safety & Health Administration and Manchin, suggesting government inspectors precipitated the explosion by forcing operators to reduce air flow to the mine by 50 percent.

“If mine management had insisted UBB airflow be cut in half before the explosion, it would have been news,” Blankenship posted. “Fact the govt did it is not news.”

He reserved some of his most barbed comments for Manchin, who was governor at the time of the explosion and had commissioned one of three investigations into the cause. “Media saying Roberts, Manchin and Main oversaw independent UBB investigations is like saying the 3 Stooges were independent of each other,” Blankenship wrote in one Tweet.

“Sen. Manchin, MSHA lied about deceased miners. Forced miners to reduce air and then said miners were at fault,” he said in another. “Shameful.”

Blankenship finished his diatribe May 10 with a challenge to Manchin.

“I challenge Sen. Manchin to debate UBB truth,” he wrote. “A U.S. Senator who says I have ‘blood on my hands’ should be man enough to face me in public.”

Though Manchin didn’t comment on the invitation, the senator issued a brief statement later that day pointing out Blankenship “doesn’t have to answer to me and he doesn’t have to answer to federal authorities anymore, but he does have to answer to the loved ones of the miners who died in his mine for the rest of his life.

“His refusal to accept responsibility for his criminal actions even now only exacerbates these grieving families’ pain,” Manchin said in a statement. “The families of the fallen 29 brave miners deserve better, so I hope that Mr. Blankenship chooses to do the right thing and disappear from the public eye.

“In the meantime, I will continue to work every day to ensure that a tragedy like Upper Big Branch never happens again. I introduced legislation that would increase penalties on coal company executives who fail to provide a safe work environment and put the health and lives of our miners at risk. Our miners helped build this nation. They should leave their homes every morning knowing they will return to their families every night. I encourage Congress to take up and pass this commonsense legislation as soon as possible.”

How the dispute will impact Manchin’s 2018 re-election chances remains to be seen, but he’s been named by many political observers as being a vulnerable target for the next campaign cycle.

Blankenship, in the past, has been more than willing to spend millions to make a point: In 2004, he shelled out more than $3 million to start a political action group, “And For The Sake of the Kids,” aimed at unseating former West Virginia Supreme CourtJustice Warren McGraw. McGraw lost that election to Brent Benjamin, who served on the court until he was unseated in the November election.

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