Facts are stubborn things and apparently so, too, is Donald Trump Jr. For the past two years Trump Jr. has been defending himself in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Don Blankenship, the former coal company executive who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in West Virginia in 2018.
Blankenship was the head of Massey Energy when 29 workers were killed in a 2010 explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine. In 2015 he was tried on three federal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and making false statements. He was found guilty of conspiring to willfully violate federal safety standards, which is a misdemeanor, and sentenced to the maximum penalty of one year in prison. He served his time, was released and promptly declared his candidacy for the Senate.
Fast forward to May 2018, when Blankenship was engaged in a heated race for the Republican nomination to run against Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin. Even though he professed his loyalty to Donald Trump, Blankenship came under fire from Trump the junior, who tweeted on May 3, “I hate to lose. 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!”
That tweet prompted a response from Blankenship, who said the president would have no greater supporter in the U.S. Senate. The two continued their social media parrying throughout the day. Trump Jr. called Blankeship part of the “establishment” and suggested that Manchin was going to run campaign ads that focused on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Another Twitter user opined that Manchin’s ads likely were going to focus on himself. Trump Jr. responded by writing, “He’s probably never run against a felon.”
The next day Blankenship responded, informing Trump Jr. that he had never been convicted of a felony. The former coal company executive lost in the primary but was stung by Trump Jr.’s false tweet and sued him for defamation. Other news outlets also inaccurately had reported the felony conviction story and later published retractions and corrections. Not Trump Jr. He allowed the lie to live on his Twitter feed until June, at which he pointed he pulled it down. But he has never acknowledged that Blankenship’s conviction was not for a felony.
On Wednesday U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. dismissed Trump Jr.’s motion to have the lawsuit dismissed and ruled that the case will go forward, chiding Trump for not admitting he was wrong. “He (Trump Jr.) never retracted or corrected the false tweets, despite being informed of their falsity,” Copenhaver wrote.
The judge went on to say he agreed that the Blankenship legal team’s arguments were “sufficient at this stage to create a ‘plausible inference’ that Trump Jr. published his tweet with knowledge of its falsity.” He also noted that Trump Jr. had even promoted a CNN story that said Blankenship had been convicted only of a misdemeanor, saying this supported the idea that Trump Jr. might have or should have known the truth.