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Plato Cacheris is a Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyer who epitomizes the breed. For decades, he has represented clients in nearly every major controversy to hit town. He negotiated plea bargains or immunity for Fawn Hall, Oliver North’s secretary, in the Iran-Contra scandal; for Monica Lewinsky in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment saga; and for CIA spy Aldrich Ames. He also represented at trial former Attorney General John Mitchell in Watergate and former Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., in the Abscam congressional corruption sting operation. And on Monday, Cacheris announced that another client, former FBI counterespionage veteran Robert Hanssen, had confessed to spying for the former Soviet Union and Russia. In return for his admission and his agreement to help the government assess the damage he caused to national security, Hanssen received a life prison term — instead of risking execution — and secured an annuity for his wife. Legal Times last week discussed with Cacheris the plea-bargaining techniques he has used over the years. An edited version of the interview, with Associate Legal Editor Evan Schultz and reporter Siobhan Roth, follows. Legal Times: In a sort of case that’s high-profile or that touches on national security issues, what do you do differently than you would do in other criminal cases? Cacheris: The uniqueness of an espionage case is that, unlike almost any other case, you know that the government is very interested in making a damage assessment on what was given out — how it was done, when was it done — so you know that you have that going for you. In Hanssen, we were told from the beginning that the death penalty was a real issue. And we said, then we go to trial. Eventually, they decided that they wanted his cooperation more than they wanted to try to seek the death penalty. With, say, Fawn Hall and Monica, again, they wanted their cooperation. Fawn against Ollie North, about the shredding of the documents. And Monica, about the relationship with Clinton. In both of those cases, I was prepared, and I know that I speak for [co-counsel] Jake Stein in the Lewinsky matter, we were prepared to go to trial. We thought it would have been an interesting trial. It would have had high-profile witnesses. At that time, Clinton was denying any involvement. Vernon Jordan would have been called as a witness. We thought that she had a high chance of acquittal. With Fawn Hall, I again thought that she had a high chance of acquittal. So, in those cases, we were able to say, “If you don’t give us what we want, then you have to put the case on trial.” Legal Times: When you’re going back and forth talking to your client and to opposing counsel, do you have in mind what things are going to look like at trial? And how do you balance that out against trying to make the negotiations go as well as possible? Cacheris: You have to understand what the other side is looking for. I think that’s critical. Let me talk about Ames for a moment. [The government] wanted things to be thoroughly debriefed. And I knew from Ames’ standpoint that he wanted his wife taken care of. He was not — and I commend him for this — as concerned about what happened to him, as long as his wife was given what he considered to be lenient treatment. Because in her case she was indicted, too. That is not a factor in Hanssen. Although Hanssen did want his family taken care of, too. With Fawn Hall, she didn’t have anyone to worry about except herself. Legal Times: When the defendant has information that the government would like to get, how much leverage does that give you? Cacheris: A lot in an espionage case. Legal Times: Is it ever possible to protect a client from getting in trouble with the IRS? [Hanssen's plea agreement subjects him to tax liability for income he received from spying.] Cacheris: Yes, to some extent. You can always make part of the settlement a promise not to be prosecuted for anything else. The government can promise a nonprosecution for Internal Revenue criminal offenses. But if the IRS wants to collect a civil assessment, no Assistant U.S. Attorney can tell you, “I can cover you for that.” Legal Times: There’s always a huge amount of publicity in these cases. How does that affect the plea bargaining negotiation? Cacheris: It makes prosecutors more cautious. They don’t want to be perceived as giving away too much. So publicity is a factor, unfortunately. Legal Times: And it can make things harder for you? Cacheris: Prosecutors are more cautious in high-profile cases. They might want to steel themselves against the possible criticism that they gave too much away. For example, there have been criticisms voiced about the pension that the [Hanssen] family will receive. But fortunately, we had a decent prosecutor and it didn’t bother him. Legal Times: Is there any way that you’ve ever been able to use publicity in a way that’s helpful to you? Cacheris: I can’t recall in any way that I’ve used publicity in a manner that is helpful to my clients. It’s my experience that publicity isn’t beneficial to the client. Monica’s a good example. We never permitted her to talk. We didn’t make any statements other than to say, one, we’re in the case, which was a two-minute press conference. And two, we’ve cut a deal, which was a three-minute press conference. And so we didn’t use the press in the interim, and we did not consciously leak anything to anyone. Legal Times: But there are different ways that you can use the press. For instance, with Monica’s case, the fact that there was so much publicity for so long maybe made the government more willing to cut a deal? Cacheris: We had another component in that case: relations between Monica’s prior counsel and the independent counsel. The relations had soured to such a degree that they mistrusted each other immensely. The press fed on this. We came in with a fresh broom, but it wasn’t the publicity that settled the case. Legal Times: That actually gets into another question: How do you deal with plea negotiations differently than other attorneys? Cacheris: Every case is unique and has its own touchstone. I don’t know that my dealings differ from other attorneys. Hopefully I try to maintain — up to the point that we are going to go to war — cordial relationships with the prosecutors because I think it’s beneficial to my client. But each case has differences. We announced after the indictment that we were going to file motions. Unfortunately, the evidence in the Hanssen case was overwhelming. With the Lewinsky case we had leverage because it was known we were prepared to go to trial. Legal Times: It’s often the client who is most interested in making this thing go away and getting a plea. And it seems that there are times when you as their counsel might think that the best outcome will come from a trial. Could you talk about the tension there? Cacheris: Hopefully — and theoretically, but not always — your relationship with your client is such that he or she has confidence in you. And if you tell them, “We think you’ll do better at trial,” they will listen. But a lot of times they want to have some finality. And they know what they’ve done, I know what they’ve done, and they place their faith in you to negotiate the best resolution for them. One, they don’t want to be convicted or incarcerated. And two, they understand that going to trial is more expensive than a settlement. And each case is different. With Monica, she very much was distressed and wanted to get out of the glare of the independent counsel’s sights, and was concerned. So we knew what we had to do in her case. Legal Times: Isn’t there maybe a bit of tension in that, once you have a reputation for being a great litigator, it gets easier to plead things out? Meaning that maybe you then end up doing more plea bargains, and fewer actual trials? Cacheris: That’s a factor. But the most important factor is — this brings me to my almost favorite subject in criminal law — the federal sentencing guidelines. They are an abomination. They put a premium on cooperating. You can avoid prosecution if you turn someone else in. And if you try the case and lose, you lose the benefits that the sentencing guidelines provide. It appears that the sentencing guidelines punish you for going to trial. A client comes to you, and you can pull out the sentencing guideline chart and predict the sentencing range if he’s convicted. The client asks if there is any way around it. You are required to inform him that if he provides substantial assistance to the government, or if he simply pleads guilty, he will receive benefits that he won’t get if he goes to trial. It’s a courageous client who will say, “Let’s roll the dice.” It’s malpractice if you don’t sit down and tell the client what his options are. You can testify for the government. You can plead guilty, you can do this, you can do that. You have to tell them that. And they have a perception of what they’ve done, of coming to the realization of having a criminal lawyer representing them, of having a prosecutor threatening them. They want to get out of it with the lightest possible punishment. In a case I had recently, a doctor was indicted with his wife. The doctor opted out to plead guilty, because the prosecutors dismissed the case against his wife. I knew what he was going to do. I would have done the same thing — taken the plea to get my wife out of the case. Legal Times: Do you end up going to trial very often in criminal cases? Cacheris: I haven’t been lately, unfortunately. I’m looking for one. That doctor’s case was one I really wanted to try, and that was a year or two ago. But putting the wife in the case made all the difference in the world. Legal Times: When was the last full-blown jury trial you had? Cacheris: I had one three or four years ago in the Eastern District of Virginia. We tried it for three days and in the middle we resolved it. I also had a contempt of court trial that lasted about a week in superior court. Those are the last couple that I can remember. Legal Times: With the Hanssen case, what was it that made the government switch its point of view on striking a plea? Cacheris: There’s a lot written about the Hanssen case that I can’t verify. But there were reports that [Attorney General John] Ashcroft and even [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Robert] Mueller [recently nominated as FBI director] were insisting on the death penalty. But there were reports that George Tenet, the CIA director, and maybe others, wanted the benefit of debriefing Hanssen. We were looking at each other across trenches from February to July before we got it resolved. And I think eventually they decided it was better to resolve it than to try it. And we had a number of really significant legal issues in that case. We put them on the table — statute of limitations, for example — and they did dismiss some counts. We had arguments about the conspiracy count being duplicitous because of a long period of inactivity between 1992 and 1999, and we would have argued that if there were a conspiracy, it ended. Plus, that the Soviet Union collapsed and we now have another party in the case, Russia. So those are the types of things that we would have raised had we gone to trial. Legal Times: Do you think that when you end up coming to a plea bargain negotiation that attorneys figure, if Cacheris is here, then that means that his client really wants to plea? Cacheris: I haven’t had that perception. There may be some people who would say that. I’ve gone in and discussed cases with prosecutors, and we’ve discussed them on the merits, and we’ve pointed out where we think we should go. Legal Times: For some of these cases, that have been so important historically and obviously important to the people involved, your representation has really just been a few months. Cacheris: I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. Though in Hanssen it has been longer. I got into Hanssen on February 18, and we resolved it July 6, essentially. Legal Times: Is there anything maybe a little bit frustrating — when these great, important issues come through, does the lawyer in you wish there were more for you to do? Cacheris: I will say this, on the Hanssen case: The evidence was abundant. But I certainly, if forced to, was very titillated about the notion of going to trial, and seeing if they were going to produce a witness from Russia. And I was looking forward to a cross-examination of him. Beginning with, “How much money did you get for this?” And spending a few days on that issue. So there is some measure of disappointment personally and professionally. But in looking at it for Hanssen, it’s the best thing for him, and I have to accede to that. And in Monica’s case, a trial would have been very interesting. But, again, she got what she wanted. I’m not going to force somebody to trial, just to satisfy myself. Legal Times: You seem drawn to some of these high-profile cases that are also interesting. Cacheris: Absolutely. Like I said, Hanssen had a lot of good legal issues that we would have loved to try.

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