CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is speaking more extensively about attacks made against him by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
Since his release from federal prison in May, Blankenship has continued to criticize Manchin for how he handled the Upper Big Branch mine explosion when he was Governor of West Virginia in 2010. The disaster killed 29 coal miners.
Manchin has been quiet, for the most part, about Blankenship’s Twitter, video and website attacks, but for the first time Thursday he addressed a crowd of people about it. The senator took shots at Blankenship during a speech Thursday before members of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.
“If he wants to spend all his money against me that’s fine, but don’t try to justify what was done. Don’t try to say that it was everybody else’s fault,” Manchin said during the labor union’s 29th Annual Constitution Convention at the Four Points by Sheraton in Charleston.
Blankenship served a one year federal prison sentence for a 2015 misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate mandatory mine safety laws in the months before the UBB tragedy. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Blankenship’s case, meaning his conviction will stand.
“They ruled on it. The jury has ruled on it. It is what it is,” Manchin said. “Let’s make sure he doesn’t operate that way again and make sure that everyone corrects their mistakes they made.”
But the former coal boss maintains he’s not guilty of the crime. In Blankenship’s latest television advertisement, he claims Manchin has “blood on his hands” — a phrase first used by Manchin in 2014.
“I believe that Don has blood on his hands. And I believe that justice will be done,” Manchin previously said.
The ad, released last week, blames Manchin and former President Barack Obama for the miners’ deaths saying “the U.S. government reduced their mine’s airflow.” The end of the ad demands President Donald Trump be told “the truth about Obama’s deadliest cover up.”
“The UBB facts are simple and easily proven. Adequate mine airflow is the most critical element to avoiding both gas ignitions and gas explosions. The Mine Safety and Health Administration required that the miners reduce their airflow in half shortly before the UBB natural gas explosion. The government’s own witnesses testified to this fact under oath at my trial,” Blankenship said in a Sept. 11 press release.
Investigators determined the explosion was caused by a spark at the mine face that was fueled by massive amounts of coal dust and methane.
In other television ads, Blankenship has used family members of UBB victims to ask what happened at the mine, but Manchin said Thursday Blankenship should leave the families out of it.
“If you want to go after me, that’s fine. Do it in a way that you don’t have to bring in the families because every time you do that, it just brings the harm and hurt back,” Manchin said.
Manchin credited the work of organized labor in West Virginia during Thursday’s convention. He said he wants to “reward people for the risk they take and the education they attain.”
He said he knows in his heart that he will continue to work hard for mine safety.
More than 200 union members representing over 100 local union affiliates were on hand to congratulate the new President of the West Virginia AFL-CIO Josh Sword.
Sword has served as President since the retirement of Kenny Perdue in December. He served as Secretary-Treasurer of the union since 2013.