Blankenship’s defamation lawsuit against Trump Jr. gets a trial date

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal trial over whether Donald Trump Jr. intentionally sabotaged the Senate campaign of former coal operator Don Blankenship by calling him a felon is set for one year from now.

U.S.senior status Judge John Copenhaver released an order that includes a 9:30 a.m. start for an Oct. 6, 2020, trial.

It is possible, of course, that the matter could be dismissed, settled or delayed.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia is of note because of the names involved.

Don Blankenship

Blankenship is the former Massey Energy chief who was tried in 2015 on three federal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and making false statements. He was not tried for directly causing the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 workers, but the charges were prompted by the disaster.

Blankenship was found guilty of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards, a misdemeanor. He spent a year in jail and then announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, running in a competitive primary that included state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and then-Congressman Evan Jenkins.

A few weeks ago, a federal magistrate judge recommended that Blankenship’s conviction be thrown out because of evidence that was not provided to his defense.

Donald Trump Jr

Trump Jr. is the son of the president of the United States and executive vice president of the Trump Organization. He has been active with his father’s political campaign.

Blankenship and Donald Trump Jr. are at odds in federal court because of tweets the president’s son sent out to his 3.8 million followers.

Just a few days before the May 8, 2018, West Virginia primary, Trump Jr. called on West Virginia voters to reject Blankenship’s candidacy.

“I hate to lose,” Trump Jr. tweeted on May 3. “So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and ask the people of West Virginia to make a wise decision and reject Blankenship!”

The social media statement prompted a response from Blankenship, who said the president would have no greater supporter in the U.S. Senate.

The Twitter exchange continued, with Trump Jr. reacting to Blankenship calling him part of “the establishment.” He suggested the candidate on the Democratic side, incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, would run ads focusing on the Upper Big Branch disaster.

When a follower chimed in that Manchin’s ads would more likely be about himself, Trump Jr. responded “He’s probably never run against a felon.”

The next day, Blankenship disputed that characterization. He made reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plus a gathering of national Republican leaders.

“I am sorry that you were misinformed and misled by McConnell’s cronies while you were at the RNC meeting yesterday in Miami. I have never been convicted of a felony and never been convicted of a misdemeanor that I committed,” Blankenship said.

Since then, Blankenship has contended there was a broad effort to characterize his conviction as a felony in an attempt to make sure he would not win the Republican primary.

Blankenship has one, $12 billion federal lawsuit against media organizations and reporters, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and dozens more, contending they intentionally damaged his campaign by referring to him as a “convicted felon.”

The lawsuit against Trump Jr. is similar but separate.

Lawyers for Blankenship originally filed the lawsuit in circuit court in Mingo County, where Blankenship spent much of his working life. Trump Jr. was notified via certified letter addressed to him at Trump Tower, New York.

The case was moved on July 26 to federal court.

“The defamation of Mr. Blankenship as a ‘felon’ has so smeared his reputation that he has been prevented from pursuing other businesses and opportunities and generating similar returns of billions of dollars,” the lawsuit against Trump Jr. contends.

Lawyers for Trump Jr. responded that Blankenship’s claims are not supported by facts. They are asking for the case to be dismissed.

“This case is not about whether there was a conspiracy to defeat Plaintiff’s U.S. Senate campaign, or about the ‘weaponizing’ of defamation against him,” wrote the lawyers for Trump Jr.

“It is about whether or not Plaintiff has an actionable claim against the Defendant for a single tweet that was not directed or focused toward Plaintiff and did not impugn his character.”

The lawyers for Trump Jr. acknowledge it is plausible that the president’s son attended a meeting of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and that the subject of the West Virginia race came up. But the lawyers say there is no reason to believe Trump Jr. knew his characterization of Blankenship as a felon was false.

“It bears repeating that the substance, the gist — the sting — of Defendant’s comments is in the reference to his conviction and sentence and not in the details of the potential length of the punishment of his crime,” wrote the lawyers for Trump Jr.

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