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Launching a Senate bid, former jailed coal CEO Don Blankenship aligns himself with Trump

  • Being jailed during the Obama administration is "probably a badge of honor," ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship says.
  • Blankenship goes to coal country to launch his West Virginia senate campaign to try to unseat moderate Democrat Joe Manchin.
  • Blankenship spent one year in prison on a conviction stemming from the deadliest U.S. mine explosion in four decades.

Former Massey Energy CEO and ex-convict Don Blankenship said Friday he does not believe his one-year prison sentence stemming from the deadliest U.S. mine explosion in four decades will hurt his Republican bid to win a U.S. Senate seat from West Virginia.

"I think on the explosion and the prosecution, if you will, it's probably a badge of honor … in West Virginia at least to have been jailed by Obama and [former Attorney General] Loretta Lynch," the onetime coal chief told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Blankenship, 67, was sentenced in 2016 for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia, where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected Blankenship's bid to appeal. He maintains his innocence, saying natural gas and not methane gas and excess coal dust caused the explosion.
"It was not what government said it was," he said. "It was not a dust explosion. It was a gas explosion. The science will show that."

"I will continue to file motions and paperwork, if you will, to try to get the verdict invalidated," he added.

Blankenship launched his campaign to unseat moderate Democrat Joe Manchin on Thursday evening, just miles north of heart of West Virginia's southern coalfields.

He told CNBC his politics align with President Donald Trump and the GOP on fiscal and social issues.

"The candidates I'm running against, two of them have supported Hillary [Clinton] in the past. She didn't do too well in West Virginia. And the third one is from New Jersey and New York. So I think I have a pretty good chance," Blankenship said, positioning himself as a businessman who gives to charity and has worked to change his state for the better.

Trump won West Virginia by a landslide in the 2016 president election against Clinton.

Blankenship said he would not expect to get a Trump endorsement in the Republican primary but sees the president supporting the GOP candidate against incumbent Manchin.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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