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Convicted coal CEO challenges Manchin to debate after leaving prison

 Convicted coal CEO challenges Manchin to debate after leaving prison
© Greg Nash

Disgraced former coal boss Don Blankenship challenged West Virginia Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems MORE (D), considered one of 2018's most vulnerable incumbents, to a debate and reiterated his claims of innocence on Wednesday, the day his federal prison sentence formally ended. 

Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, served a one-year prison sentence after his conviction on a federal conspiracy charge stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 workers in 2010. 

On Wednesday, Blankenship said in a series of tweets that his political and regulatory critics had “lied” about his role in the incident and reiterated his claims that natural gas was the cause of the mine collapse, something disputed by official reports. 

“Ann Coulter free speech in news lately. She's lucky — govt put me under $5M bond, gag order, and in prison said my speech 'troubles the US,' " Blankenship, who has long said his legal troubles are politically motivated, tweeted. 

He accused Manchin and the Mine Safety and Health Administration of lying about the cause of the crisis and said, “I challenge Sen. Manchin to debate [Upper Big Branch] truth. A U.S. Senator who says I have ‘blood on my hands’ should be man enough to face me in public.” 

Manchin, who is up for reelection next year in a state easily carried by President Trump, said in a statement that Blankenship has “to answer to the loved ones of the miners who died in his mine for the rest of his life.”

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He added, “[Blankenship's] refusal to accept responsibility for his criminal actions even now only exacerbates these grieving families’ pain … I hope that Mr. Blankenship chooses to do the right thing and disappear from the public eye.” 

A jury found Blankenship guilty of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge in December 2015, and a judge sentenced him to a year in prison the following April. 

A federal appeals court upheld the conviction in January, and his prison term formally ended on Wednesday.