Mansour is a local Mississippi Delta lawyer who represented Keith Mitchell,
Sr. in his dealings and plea agreements with Smaltz's investigation.
Was he a big time farmer, small farmer, middle level farmer around here?
I guess it depends on how you classify farmers. Of course, in different parts
of the country, there would be classified differently. I would say Keith, of
course, he doesn't own any farmland. He rents all of his land. I would say in
terms of the number of acres he farms around here, he would be a mid size
farmer. Not a large farmer by any stretch of the imagination. I don't
remember the exact number of acres he farms. I think it's somewhere around
2,000, 2,500. Which would classify him probably as a mid size farmer.
Prosperous, was he?
Successful. I think Keith was, and is still hopefully a good farmer. You
know, practiced good farming and agricultural techniques, as far as I could
tell. And seemed to make a good living for him and his family, not wealthy by
His standing, though, in this area, in the community and among other
farmers and here in the Delta, was he known as an honorable fellow? Had he had
difficulties in the past?
Yeah. I can only speak from my own personal knowledge, and as far as I've
known Keith Mitchell and have represented him in various different things for
the last, at least 10 years, and in that time, it's always been my opinion of
him. That he was an extremely honorable man. But, you know, like I said I can
only speak from my personal knowledge of him. He seemed to be well respected
in the farming community, as far as his abilities are concerned. Now, whether
or not, he had any, you know, personality conflicts with others, I couldn't
tell you. I don't think. But in my opinion I thought he was an extremely
honorable man, still do.
In your understanding what was his aim in filing that plan?
This might be an area I might be a little uncomfortable commenting about, you
know, because of this pending sentencing hearing. Certainly Mr. Mitchell
accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing, and, of course, he'll be sentenced
here shortly for that.
If I understand your question correctly, I think you're asking me did he--what
was his intent when he put his son down as an operator of this farm? And the
only way I could answer that question would be that it's my understanding from
knowing this man that his intent was obviously to get an additional payment.
But, also, that his intent was that his son would perform the duties that were
listed of him in his farm plan. That's my understanding of what his intent
So that what happened was Mr. Mitchell's farming some land. He makes an
application for these subsidies, files his farm plan for '92, county folks look
at this. They say there are more than five pieces of this, according to the
regulation this has got to be approved by the state committee.
State committee gets it, looks at it, sees the student thing, that sends up
red flags. They look at it a little closer, they turn him down.
He gets a chance to appeal. He appeals back at the state board. This time
he has Mr. Blackley with him. The state board reconsiders its decision, and,
again, turns him down. At that point he goes to Washington.
At that point he goes to Washington, and it goes basically through the
Washington review piece. They look at him. They hear his appeal. They say,
"No." And it's over. And then it comes back to life, and what brings it back
to life, again, my understanding is what turns out to be, you know, a semi
significant, what you might call personnel shift, which is to say Bill Clinton
goes in the White House, Mike Espy becomes Secretary of Agriculture.
Local consultant, Ron Blackley, becomes Chief of Staff of the Department of
Agriculture, handpicks this case of one of his former clients and walks it into
the review process. And that is where Washington begins to turn it around.
There was an appeal...And Ron Blackley was representing, it's my
understanding, Keith Mitchell, at that hearing.
I am not sure that the review process--it's my understanding now, and I
apologize--I may have my dates wrong, Peter, but it's my understanding that
when the National Appeals Board denied Mr. Mitchell's payment that there was an
immediate letter written to either the Secretary or someone under the
Secretary, asking that that decision be reviewed. Let me put it this way, Mike
Espy was the Secretary of Agriculture at that point. How much time transpired
between the initial NAB decision, and Mr. Mitchell's request for a review. I
don't know. It seems to me that Mr. Espy was in office when NAB made their
In any case, to put it on a simpler term, but the time favorable decisions
started being made in Mr. Mitchell's case--
Mike Espy was the Secretary of Agriculture.
One of the things I'd really like to ask just to help me understand how
things work around here. Before Clinton, before Espy, before any of that,
there was a relationship between Mr. Mitchell in this process and this fellow,
Ron Blackley. Blackley comes with Mitchell to Jackson when they're reviewing
one of these decisions. And he did because he helped to prepare the farm plan.
It's my understanding that's correct.
What is that? Who is a Ron Blackley, a lawyer, an agent? What does he do?
Ron Blackley started out with government. He started out with the local ASCS
office. Ron Blackley was--
Department of Agriculture?
With the Department of Agriculture. He was the CO for Washington County.
He was the federal Department of Agriculture's man on the scene.
For Washington County. Each local ASCS office, not every county in the state
has an ASCS office, and some of the counties are combined. But each ASCS
office has an operations man, a head operator, and his job is to review farm
plans. So Ron Blackley got his knowledge of the farm program through his years
of experience with the Ag Department and the local ASCS, which is now FSA. And
he left that employ, and went into private agricultural consulting, years
before he went to work for Mike Espy. And it's my understanding that when he
met Mike Espy, Ronnie Blackley was in private agricultural consulting.
And I'm speculating on a lot of this, but it's my understanding that part of
his duties, as a private agricultural consultant was to assist local farmers in
preparing their annual farm programs, their plans. As you may have already
gathered, this farm program constitutes a major part of the farming operation
now. Making sure it's done correctly, filing it on time, making sure all of
the paperwork is in order. It's become part of farming. It's as much a part
of farming as it is plowing that land out there now. And a lot of farmers just
don't have the time, nor do they want--have the expertise to fool with it. So
there go Ronnie Blackley, and he had some expertise in the matter. So he
assisted a number of farmers, I understand, in setting up their farm plans.
Now, the world turns and time passes and the next thing you know there are
newspaper reports, followed by the appointment of an independent counsel to
look into allegations against Secretary Espy. And this is an eventuality,
which soon comes to have an impact on the life of Keith Mitchell and his
family. Tell me your understanding of how that inquiry landed at the front
door of Mr. Mitchell. What was it like?
At some point in 1994-'95, I don't remember exactly when, Mr. Mitchell was
approached at his home--called I think by two federal agents. The federal
agents said "Under the temporary employ of the office of the independent
counsel, investigating Mike Espy." Asked if they could interview him. He
invited them to their home. Shortly thereafter he was a target in this
So Mr. Mitchell thought that they were there just to do what they said they
were there to do, which was--
Talk to him about Mike Espy.
And Mitchell knew, of course, that he had no direct relationship to any of
Espy's known criminal exposures.
I'm assuming he did. There was no hesitation. He had no reason not to talk
to them, and he welcomed them into his home freely.
Did he call a lawyer?
Did not. He did not.
He sat down on his own with these agents, and just started--
That's something I would never recommend anyone do is sit down with any
federal agent, and give a statement, regardless of how innocent you may be.
But that's another story.
How about his family. His sons were eventually sort of ensnared by this
thing. Were they ever visited by the independent counsel or by any of the
Oh, sure. His eldest son, who was also indicted, Brook Keith Mitchell, Jr.
in this action was approached at the same time he was living in Jackson at the
same time. And at the same time Mr. Mitchell was being interviewed by the two
agents, his son Brook Keith Mitchell, Jr. was approached by federal agents in
Jackson. To my knowledge that's probably the only time he was ever directly
approached by federal agents, his son. Kevin never was.
Well, they scared the hell out of him. That should go without saying. He
called his father. And called him at home, and actually the agents were still
there in his home, when he called. He told him, "There's two agents here
wanting to talk to me, what's this about?" I don't think they ever actually
interviewed his son.
Was Mr. Mitchell surprised to hear this?
He was a little shocked. He was upset.
What happens with your client?
He's indicted, and his son is indicted.
His son too?
On the multiple count indictments. Now, as you already know, we never felt
that the Blackley jurisdiction expansion, included Keith Mitchell. We didn't
feel it was sufficient to include Keith Mitchell. So we vigorously contested
whether or not the independent counsel had jurisdiction to indict Keith
Mitchell under the Espy independent counsel. And there were a number of
appeals made prior to trial to the court of appeals, based upon that position.
The federal judge felt they did. And the court of appeals basically didn't
address the issue. Said it was an issue that should be addressed on appeal, if
he were convicted. So we never really got an answer to that question, whether
or not his jurisdiction was proper in this matter.
What was the circumstance, what were the pressures that I guess led to the
Well, I don't know that I really need to get into that issue. Mr. Mitchell
obviously pled guilty. Mr. Mitchell has accepted responsibility.
Mr. Mitchell, Sr.?
Mr. Mitchell, Sr.
Did his son have to plead?
No. His son was represented by another attorney, but basically his son's plea
arrangement involved a diversion program, with no criminal--in effect, he
agreed to enter into a federal diversion program, which basically means you
don't have a record. You perform certain hours, X number of hours of community
service, then you have no criminal record. The charges basically are
dismissed, for all practical purposes. Mr. Mitchell, of course, hasn't been
sentenced yet. But, you know, he decided shortly before trial that it was in
his best interests obviously to plead guilty. His best interests and his
families' best interest, I guess I should say. He did, and he now accepts
responsibility, full responsibility for his actions.
And now we just wait and see what kind of punishment will be levied(?).
So you have two indictments; father and son. The son's resolution was less
drastic than that which faced his father. But the father had to plead guilty
to what? Felony?
Four counts of felony.
And now awaits sentencing. What has the effect been on that family?
Based upon my observations, it's been devastating. Mr. Mitchell's emotional
and physical health is--he's had--I think he's probably lost anywhere from 60
to 90 pounds through this process. He's sought and has been treated, and is
continuing it's my understanding he's still being treated by a psychiatrist.
Taking medication for depression. The effect on his marriage, and his
relationship with his children has been devastated. He's been an emotional and
physical wreck, not to mention the financial setback that he has incurred as a
result of this. He's trying to continue farming. Hopefully, he'll be able to
get back on his feet. Of course, we hope that he is able to continue farming.
We don't know what the outcome of the sentencing hearing is going to be. In
addition to the potential of having to do time, which we hope doesn't happen.
We don't know. You know, there's the potential of a substantial financial fine
that could be levied. That depends on a lot of different factors.
So this thing still yet could reap more financial--there's no question it will
reap more financial havoc on him, more physical and emotional setbacks also.
He has had a rough go of it.
Putting yourself on the other side, can you imagine--put it another way.
What is the justification in your mind for going after and indicting a
Mississippi farmer, who has only been to Washington, D.C. twice in his life.
When, in fact, what the purpose of the inquiry is is a member of the
That's a very good question. Obviously the motivation for any of these
indictments, leading up to the Espy indictment is presumably to build a case
against Mike Espy. And the question is how much is too far? How far out do
you need to go, and how far down that totem pole do you need to go to build a
case against your primary target? Against Mike Espy, which is why you were
appointed in the first place. Mike Espy or whoever it may be.