Goodbye Plato

Farewell to a great lawyer and a great friend.

Plato Cacheris died on Thursday in Arlington after complications from pneumonia. He was 90, and widely regarded as one of the top defense attorneys in a town that hires lots of them. 

I met Plato during Iran-Contra, when he defended Fawn Hall, and we became friends. For years thereafter, we periodically lunched together at al Tiramisu, an excellent southern Italian restaurant around the corner from his Connecticut Avenue office.

You can read the epitaphs most everywhere, and they all say the same thing.  He fought fiercely for his clients, whatever he thought of them. He defended those who had been framed, and also outright traitors. He was a wizard in the court room, blessed with a delightful sense of humor and a long career in and outside the government. He knew the origins of many contemporary debates, as for example the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which he helped craft when he served in the Justice Department in the 1970s.

He was also generous to a fault. Just ask Larry Franklin, who was trapped by the FBI into agreeing to plead guilty to bringing to his West Virginia home classified documents he was technically required to keep in his Pentagon office. As Plato put it to the judge in the case, Larry was guilty by a few miles (he had permission to travel with classified material throughout the tri-state area). 

So far as I know, Larry was not charged for Plato’s work,

Most regular news watchers and readers know Mr. Cacheris from his defense of two women: Fawn Hall in the Iran-Contra affair, and Monica Lewinsky, in which he and his colleague Jake Stein, another distinguished defense attorney, divvied up the labor. Neither served a day in prison.

His epitaph sums up his efforts over the years:

In the Watergate break-in and coverup, Mr. Cacheris represented former attorney general John N. Mitchell; in Abscam, which involved federal agents masquerading as wealthy oil sheikhs offering bribes to members of Congress, he represented then-Rep. Michael O. “Ozzie” Myers (D-Pa.); in the international scandal involving the rogue bank B.C.C.I., he represented Sheik Kamal Adham, the former Saudi intelligence chief; and in Iran-contra, he was the lawyer for Fawn Hall, a secretary to Lt. Col. Oliver L. North at the National Security Council.

Mr. Cacheris also formed a high-profile subspecialty in espionage cases. His clients included Aldrich H. Ames of the CIA and Robert P. Hanssen of the FBI, both of whom spied for the Soviets and then the Russians, and Ana Belén Montes of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who spied for Cuba.

Plato was a great lawyer and a great friend. Often, the two roles merged.  Fawn Hall was in close touch with Plato and his family for the last months of his life, as was Larry Franklin, for whom Plato was working to obtain a presidential pardon. We all looked forward to attending his funeral, or at least a memorial service, but his widow, Ethel, has said that he didn’t want any such ceremony. He’ll be buried privately.

Plato was the son of immigrants, and suitably enough his father was in the restaurant business. The family moved to Washington, where Plato came up through the public schools, attended Georgetown University and entered the Marine Corps Officer Training School in time to serve in the Korean War.  After some work for the Marine legal team, he returned to Georgetown Law School under the G.I. Bill, and thence to the government, first as a Justice Department prosecutor (the FARA years) and then as assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia.  He went into private practice in 1965.

Plato was the logical defender for Edward Snowden, and was involved in some secret conversations between Snowden and the American Government, trying to arrange Snowden’s return to the United States in exchange for a promise to reveal what he had told the Russians. But Plato, for once, failed to negotiate the deal.

What a guy!  And a good tennis player, too:

The tightknit circle of established white-collar defense lawyers would often gather at the Cacheris household on Bishop Lane in Alexandria, many of them playing tennis on what was sometimes called the John Mitchell Tennis Court. Mr. Cacheris had jocularly asserted that it was paid for with the fees he got from representing Mitchell.