I had been dealing with Keith since the late 80's on farm operating plans, his
payment limitation plans, and that is basically my involvement with Keith,
other than I knew Keith. Keith Mitchell gave the original fundraiser within
the agricultural community for Mike Espy when he was running for Congress.
Keith took a lot of abuse from other white farmers for doing that for Espy.
Took a lot of abuse from the Republican appointees, from within the Department
in the state, for doing that for Espy, because Espy was running against a
Republican Congressman. |
That is correct, who said he had had all the farmers he could stand at a
meeting in Cleveland, Mississippi at Delta State University, with FMHA national
director. It just so happened he was overheard in the hall saying it. A lot
of people were upset with that.
So there is a hint here, which I think a part of what you are getting at, is
that Keith Mitchell may have suffered in the Department of Agriculture ruling
on his farm plan for political reasons, at least partly.
It is not may have, he did.
Help me understand what you did. You crafted the farm plan, basically, that
was rejected by the Department of Agriculture....
The process and the policy, basically, if I remember right, was operating the
same as he had the prior year. Normal procedure within the Department of
Agriculture, within the ASCS office at the time, was that a determination is
made at the local level, the county office, and then can be reviewed at the
state level, and the national level reserves a right to review what is done.
In the case of Mitchell, the State ASCA Committee had determined that anybody
with 5 or more members in partnership would be reviewed at the state level
without a determination at the local level.... He applied. We went back and he
explained the situation and they denied him again. He appealed to the NAD or
the National Appeal Division and it took a while to get a response. [I talked
to] someone that dealt with the appeals that said the response that you are
going to get is not what our ruling was, but what ASCS wants it to be, which
was a denial. I was basically assured that Mr. Mitchell had won the appeal,
but that he would never see that.
Someone that had the opportunity to review and watch the process at the
national level. He resubmitted to the Administrator....
And the Administrator had in fact been spoken to by you, hadn't he?
To my knowledge, I can tell you that a letter had been sent to the
Administrator, but whether there was any face to face or speaking to, I don't
You did urge that these cases be given a new look.
Yes, and would do that today.
Because at the time, [from] what I had seen and what the policy was..., Mr.
Mitchell complied with the policy and met every determination necessary to my
After you became chief of staff to the Secretary of Agriculture, you wanted
to see that these cases were at the very least given another shot at the review
Actually these cases were already in the review process before I ever became
[chief of staff to the] Secretary of Agriculture. The day of us walking into
the Department of Agriculture, January 21, 1993, I signed letters that were
prepared by the government of the USDA Ethics office that said I no longer am
involved with these, and removed myself and continue to this day to be removed
from those cases.
You inquired after them?
Inquired? I would inquire where the process was with the understanding that it
didn't matter to me how they came out, but knowing that that step had to be
taken for them to be able to move to the next level, which, if they could
pursue, could be before a judge.
Why was it important to you to see that these cases moved through that
Because the rulings were wrong.... And because I had been told by someone that
had been involved that said, "You are not going to see what the outcome should
be, you are going to see what they give you...."
Did you ever suggest, instruct, hint at, the outcome you would prefer to
Can you in retrospect see that even the remotest degree of interest from the
chief of staff, Department of Agriculture, would at least imply an interest in
Knowing what I know today, knowing what I have been through this morning, I
would do it again. Because justice should be served and they were denied
without any credible reason, basically just stamped denied. I would do it
today. I would walk in that Department and file an appeal on the circumstances
as I knew them at those times, today.
So you believe that a miscarriage of justice was done... that had political
cause, and the remedy was political?
I believe that the National Appeal Division was talking to the State and there
was behind-the-scenes involvement to deny. I really do believe that. You go
into a meeting at the National Appeal Division, there is supposed to be a
hearing office that hears the facts from the appellant, and when you walk into
the room and these people have never been to Washington, and there is eight or
ten people around the room from the ASCS office, National Appeals and all, that
sit there to find out what this person has done so that if it wasn't in the
regulation, they could change the regulation and the policy so that it would
make it impossible for him to be able to operate the way he was operating. I
have seen that happen. I have been to Washington. I have been through the
appeal, and almost before you could get back to Mississippi, the policy was in
the ASCS office that says, "You can't do this."
Back on the state level, when it skips over the county level, because it had
surpassed the five commensurate principal threshold.... were you party to that
process? You walked in with Mitchell? And basically defended the plan?
Yes. I did maybe three or four appeals that day. Some were through private
consulting. Some were through the Congressional office and there was a guy
that was in the hall that I knew from Natchez that says, "We got this case, how
do you deal with this?" And they asked me to go back in with them. Totally
unrelated, but I was there. Any time anybody asked me for help, if I could
provide it, I did it....
And you would have done it again? I am talking about after you were chief
of staff. You would have gone in and made sure this process of review was
Sure, I would do it for anybody. Anybody that called that office....
One last thing on that issue, though. Of the five cases that were
re-reviewed, that were turned down, [and] were reconsidered after you all
arrived, [they all] were in fact reversed favorably toward your former clients;
that is five for five. That was batting a thousand....
Actually of the five, one of them I didn't even know. If my recollection of it
is right, when the Inspector General asked this guy if he knew me and had paid
me anything to have his review done, he says "No, but if I had known I could
have, I would have sent him a check a long time ago." Didn't even know the
person. I have later come to find out that it was an appeal that was in the
Secretary's office and a decision letter had been originated for the
Secretary's signature. I knew nothing about it.
One of the four remaining was a Mississippi resident, but involved a Louisiana
case on a disaster payment on pecans. The man had a clear lease on the land
for the year that the disaster occurred....
Hadn't that farmer been a client of yours?
No, he is a pecan farmer.
The Department of Agriculture's Inspector General, responding presumably to
the press reports, commences his own inquiry. A couple of things about that.
[What was] your understanding at the time, [of] what... the Department of
Agriculture's Inspector General was trying to find out? What was that meant to
They wanted to know if I had received monetary gain for my position outside of
my salary. I want to say that the whole investigation went on about between
five and six months.
Did you meet with the Inspector General?
I met with the investigator, maybe four, five, six or seven times. Whenever he
wanted to meet, I met.
The inquiry went on for six months. You met with the investigator half a
dozen times. What were their conclusions?
To this day, I don't know. But let me explain to you about the investigation.
They asked for information. They asked questions. I answered. I gave them
about seven years worth of tax returns. I gave them all the bank records that
I had. I signed waivers for them to get any bank record that I had signature
To my knowledge, to this day, I don't know what the final report said. The
independent counsel has blocked us from getting that report.... I do know that
I walked in to see the Acting Inspector General and said, "I would like to see
the report," and [they said], "It is going to Justice because of the Espy
deal," and I said, "Well, what is the outcome?" I was told that basically if
nobody is knocking on your door, you don't have anything to worry about. That
was good enough for me, I am not worried about it. I wish I had had it during
the trial because I think it explains a lot of things.
Of course somebody did come knock at your door, the independent counsel,
eventually. I would like to ask you about how that undertaking, Don Smaltz's
investigation of Mike Espy and its extension to you, first became manifest to
you all. When did you first hear that Justice was going through that process
by which it decides whether or not to seek the appointment of an independent
counsel regarding Mike Espy?
Say August 1994.
What were you hearing?
Just stuff that was in the paper. The fact that they were reviewing different
things and looking and he was a covered person under the Act and they would
have to make a decision.
Were you sophisticated enough in the ways of Washington and the ways of how
the Department of Justice works to know that there was likely a debate going on
with the Department of Justice, that there was such a thing such as the Public
Integrity section, that there might be people advocating the pro and the con
No, I had no knowledge of the works of Justice.
Have you since gained an insight?
No, I still don't have any insight into the Department. I do know that
basically that, if you read some of the articles, that Mr. Smaltz in his own
right has re-written the law. He has stated that he doesn't have to follow
But did you have a sense then, or do you have one now, that there were
people inside the Department of Justice, who in the ordinary course of events,
would have a say in whether or not these matters would be prosecuted, who were
against, for example, the appointment of an independent counsel in the case of
I have no knowledge of that.... As regard to my case, my understanding of the
way that the process works... [is] that if there is a review by the Inspector
General, and they find something, then they give the person the opportunity to
correct the deficiencies. If those deficiencies are not corrected, then they
would send it to Justice for their review.... I have read that they elected not
to pursue mine....
So your assertion is that, as far as you know, that the Inspector General of
the Department of Agriculture looked at your case and what, exonerated
I don't know if you can say "exonerated" me, because my understanding is that
they didn't come with a final report, because I never saw it. In the normal
process, once they complete it, I would have been notified in some form or
fashion what the report stated, whether there were deficiencies that I had to
deal with or there was nothing to deal with.
In the event, there was the appointment of an independent counsel sought,
and the appointment was made, and the independent counsel chosen was Donald
Smaltz, what did you know about him...? How did you come to perceive
Let me address that this way. Mr. Starr has been on TV and Mr. Starr has made
a lot of statements and he is played a lot in the press. People think that he
is doing a lot of things that shouldn't be done. But he is out in the open
with it. At least he is playing the press and letting everybody know where he
is. Mr. Smaltz doesn't do that. Mr. Smaltz does his in the background. He
doesn't get out and run the press, but he can ruin people's lives real quick,
and he has done it. He has made statements in Mississippi about me, about my
friends, about relationships - "you don't want to be involved with these
people." He himself may not have made those, but he has people that work for
him that have run all over Mississippi, harassed people. Threatened them.
Why would Donald Smaltz want to ruin you?
At the time they were pressuring me to lie on Mike Espy. Plain and simple.
Help me with this, please, Mr. Blackley. Let's clarify.... You were
investigated by various sources, from the press, to Grand Juries, to the
Inspector General, Department of Agriculture. You were charged with a crime,
you were tried, you were convicted by a jury, have now been sentenced by a
federal judge.... You face[d] this array of charges from the Mitchell farm
business, the E. coli poultry protection business, and so on. You maintain
your complete absolute innocence in all of these things. But then where does
this stuff come from? How do you explain that?
Allegations in this town don't have to have fact. The entire case that was
presented by the independent counsel... were a lot of half truths, were
selected words out of pages of words.... But in everything I have done, it says
"to the best of your knowledge." And to the best of my knowledge, at the time
that I did the things that I am accused of doing wrongly, it was to the best of
my knowledge. I have to stand with that. I told the judge this morning, I
accept total responsibility. But I did what I knew, how I knew to do it....
You will remember there was a moment when Mike Espy was being pretty much
hounded by the press, and it was pretty clear that his was not a political
stock in which you would want to necessarily invest, and the White House sort
of cut him loose and he resigned. How did you feel at that time about how that
whole episode with Espy was handled by his political friends?
You know, there was a lot of conversation back and forth and all, and I feel
that the way things came down and the way they took place was carefully
weighed. I think to this day that the President still thinks that Mike Espy
did a good job. Would continue to do a good job. But there is a political
scenario that had to be played out too. Possibility that the game was just too
In your dealings with the independent counsel, you have not, what they would
term, cooperated. What is it you think they wanted from you, Donald Smaltz and
Something I didn't have to give them. They wanted information that I didn't
Is that to say you believe they wanted you to lie?
They have never asked me to lie, but my gut feeling is that that is the only
definition for cooperation. I spent the time with them. I gave them documents
they asked for. Went to the expense to have bank records that they already had
and everything redone, and resent to them and they would continue to ask for
more and more documentation, and then say they didn't have it. We would
continue to provide. My understanding of the definition of cooperating is that
I have done all that. I don't know what they could mean beyond what I have
It was made plain to you, I gather, at some point, that your family, your
son, for example, could possibly face criminal exposure because of this.
What was that about, do you think, from the independent counsel's view?
What were they trying to do?
I think they were trying to do the same thing with me that they had done with
Keith Mitchell. I don't believe, and I can't say, and shouldn't speculate on
it, that Mr. Mitchell would have ever reached a plea agreement had his son not
been involved, a young man that had not been married that long, had a small
baby, was fixing to have to go through all this. And he was trying to protect
He thought that they could have that same outcome with you and with this
Yeah, I think they thought it worked one time and they were going to do it
Driving a wedge between you and your family.
That was a statement that was made in the presence of two attorneys that
represented my son... that they had no interest in my son, they were only using
him to drive a wedge in the Blackley family. They assumed they could scare my
son to come up and say anything, and my son spoke the truth....
Espy is facing an independent counsel, you are watching, presumably more or
less from the sidelines. Did it strike you early on, immediately, that "Espy
has an independent counsel, that is going to involve me?"
And in fact, the independent counsel wasn't specifically at the beginning
tasked with inquiring into any of your business, was he?
That is correct. That happened maybe 12-18 months into the investigation, when
then sought the expansion.
And you sense of that expansion, how it occurred, was it something that the
Attorney General of the United States and the Department of Justice endorsed?
Did they fight it? What is your feeling about that?
My understanding is that they denied it. Mr. Smaltz went to the three judge
panel. They gave him a hearing. Justice went and filed pleadings to not do
So Justice opposed his effects to expand.
They opposed and at a later hearing not long ago, Mr. Smaltz in an 8 page press
release after my conviction, and then before Congress, stated that Justice
obstructed his investigation of my case and allegations from that side are not
hard to get, all you have to do is look at the paper. But it was opposed and
then, even with the expansion, I think the wording on the expansion was to
cover me and my involvement as to whether or not I improperly interceded in any
Speaking of which, you were [never] literally charged with all of this
business about intervening on behalf of your former clients in Mississippi and
not about the E. coli, protecting the poultry and Tyson.
That has never been mentioned in my case....
And not in fact using your position as quid pro quo to enrich yourself, or
even to enhance your bank account, but rather specifically, with what were you
A false statement on filing an SF278, which is a financial disclosure for 1994,
and would not take into consideration that the 1993 one covered the moneys or
parts of the moneys that they claimed were hidden. False statement to the USDA
Office of Inspector General because I cooperated with them and provided them
with all the documents. If I had anything to hide, surely I wouldn't have just
given my life over to him and all these documents, but I did. The third one
was after the Mitchell indictment since I was mentioned as an unindicted
co-conspirator. I had a top secret security clearance at the Agency for
They asked did I have any involvement. Had I received any money from Mitchell
for doing this, or any remuneration and as I say... maybe I misread definitions
in the book, but it says "moneys for services rendered," and I haven't done
that since I went to work for the Department of Agriculture in January, 1993.
You did, however, after the calendar date of beginning work as a federal
employee here in Washington through the Department of Agriculture, receive
money from these sources in Mississippi.
On checks, the majority were checks from Mississippi rice services, signed by
Charles Fuller, who is the person I gave the company to.
For services that you had rendered.
For commissions on rice that was sold in 1992, but the moneys were just coming
in. There was a loan from Charles and Anita Fuller, and the check was a bank
check to my wife. That is the majority of the money. At any point that they
wanted to set down and go through this, I think we could have gone through
this. Those checks were written in Mississippi, given to my wife, deposited in
a joint checking account in Mississippi. As far as I know, I hadn't written a
check, signed a check on that account in 1993.
So you didn't know that that money had come in?
I am saying that my statements on all of these documents were to my
Did you know that that money had come in in 1993?
I anticipated moneys coming in in the way that I filed my 1993 estimated earned
income. Did I know the moneys actually came at the time, no. I was expecting
the money. I had turned the business over to a friend, would never question
it. And didn't have time to question it. We were all over the board in what
we were dealing with.
But in making the case against you regarding the false statement, the
prosecutor essentially had to make the larger case. Did you ever get the sense
that what the prosecutors were really doing was telling the jury, "The false
statement is what he is charged with here, but what this case really is about
is about this guy continuing to serve two masters, his private interest as well
as the federal government. It is really about his misuse of his position,
essentially an abuse of power."
That is what they attempted to make the case out to be, but they didn't have
that case and that is the reason they didn't charge with me with that.
Do you think that is what the jury heard?
Yes, that is exactly what they heard.... I don't know what the jury believed.
I know that some of them slept through testimony, and as I say, it was boring.
But we made a motion to interview jurors and it was denied. Because we would
like to know, I personally would like to know what they heard, because what I
heard from the independent counsel didn't convict me. The judge says, "You
can't consider that an indictment is actual proof." Is that what they used?
They didn't present evidence that even come close to saying that I have done
The jury plainly believed that they did and the judge seems to concur.
Seems to have up to now, yes.
What kind of defense did you mount against that?
I made the decision that one, they hadn't proven the case. And two, I didn't
want the people that were going to get up and testify on my behalf to go
through what I had gone through.... Anybody that got up on that stand and says
something good about me was going to be harassed, and could very possibly end
up being where I am, and I didn't want that....
Just a very short while ago, an hour-and-a-half or so, [you] stood in the
court room of federal Judge Royce Lamberth and heard him not only give you the
maximum plus..., but he seemed rather intent on lecturing you, saying that you
were an egregious case, that you were an embarrassment and should be seen as
such by the Administration, that this government that you left Mississippi to
come serve should be ashamed of you. What is your reaction to that?
My reaction is that if he is going to set me as the baseline for criminal
conduct, then he just moved a lot of people into the criminal side of this
country. I know what I have done and it is not criminal.
It is not criminal in your mind. On a scale between abjectly criminal,
egregiously criminal, as the judge suggests, and snow white innocence, looking
back objectively, how do you see whatever it was that you allow that you did?
Innocent mistakes? Bad judgment?
I still have not been pointed out where the mistake is. I did, to the best of
my knowledge and the best of my ability at the time..., what I knew to be true
and correct.... I stand by that today, as I told the judge this morning. I
accept full responsibility for what I have done, but even knowing what happened
this morning, going back to where these things took place, I don't know how I
could have done them any different that what I did.
So [you are] a complete innocent who has been victimized by a miscarriage of
Been victimized by overreach of the independent counsel. I stand up and take
responsibility for what I do.... Lily white? No, I don't think anybody who
woke up this morning is lily white. But given the scenario under which the
guidelines and policy are sitting now, if anybody had come to me and said,
"What about this?" I would have dealt with it. They could have accepted the
answer or they could discard it, they could have moved on to the next level or
whatever. But I have answered every question, just like I am answering yours,
that had ever been asked of me. If I knew the answer, I gave it to them. If I
didn't, I told them I didn't and I wouldn't speculate. But the independent
counsel never talked to me. Never questioned anything in this indictment
during the whole time. A nine count indictment, I saw this stuff listed, but I
also saw that they claimed I had a million, four million, five in income in
1992, so if you can believe that, you can believe this other.
What was your income level in '91, '92?
I grossed between $30-35,000. That was with the rice government, Ron Blackley
and Associates, congressional income, and after expenses. I don't know,
$20,000. It didn't take a lot of money for me.
Between $30-40,000 gross from your private business. And from the
Department of Agriculture and working for Congress?
At the time we came up here, I was making $1,000 a month.
So that is only another $12,000. So you were making under $50,000 a year
Yeah. I did a lot of volunteer work. I have no regrets to that at all.
Do you mind my asking... you have a very well-regarded lawyer here and high
regard is measured at least in one way in this town at this moment by high
hourly rates. How in the world does a guy who made $50 grand a year and spent
much of the last couple of years of his life defending himself, pay for legal
fees, among other things?
You know, I ran out of money a long time ago and I have to say that counsel
that I have now and those representing my son, are working off of the
understanding that I have a legal defense fund that was set up in December or
maybe a little before that. An attorney in Mississippi is overseeing it. I
wish I had a 1-800 number to hold up so people know where to call and send
money. But I have always paid my bills and I believe that these people
understand that I committed to do that.... I have a tremendous debt and to be
able to pay that, then I have to win in the appeal.... I should be in
bankruptcy right now, but I don't believe in that. I believe in paying your
debts. I was raised that way. It may take a little while, but we'll pay them.