WASHINGTON, DC – Plato Cacheris, for decades one of Washington’s top defense lawyers, passed away on September 26 in an Alexandria, VA nursing home. He was 90. His wife, Ethel, said the cause of death was pneumonia, the Washington Post reported.
Among the prominent cases Cacheris was involved with were “the Watergate and Iran-contra scandals and President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky,” the Post report continued.
The son of Greek immigrants, Plato Chris Cacheris was born in Pittsburgh on May 22, 1929, and spent his teenage years in the Washington area, where his father helped run a chain of hamburger and waffle shops.
He graduated in 1947 from the old Western High School in the District and in 1951 from Georgetown University. During the Korean War, he enlisted in the Marine Corps officer candidate school program and served as defense counsel in special courts-martial cases. On the G.I. Bill, he graduated from Georgetown’s law school in 1956 and was particularly inspired by a course taught by Edward Bennett Williams.
In 1955, he married Ethel Dominick. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children, Lisa Burnett of Arlington, VA, and Byron Cacheris of Alexandria; a brother, James Cacheris, who became a federal judge; and a granddaughter.
Cacheris opened a private criminal defense practice in 1965 after several years working as a Justice Department prosecutor and an assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria. “I like defending better, although it’s harder,” Cacheris told The Washington Post. “I like the battle against the government. And I never really liked seeing people go to jail.”
In the Watergate break-in and coverup, 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 “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.
Among his clients charged with espionage, were Aldrich H. Ames of the CIA and Robert P. Hanssen of the FBI who were arrested in 1994 and 2001 respectively for spying for the Soviets and then Russians, the Post reported. Ames “had been spying for the Russians since 1985 and had given up the names of at least 10 agents who were supplying information to the United States,” the Post reported, adding that Hanssen “spied for Moscow on and off for 22 years, and who came to be regarded as one of the most damaging double agents in U.S. history.”
Both faced the death penalty since the espionage law was changed allowing for execution when the government could show that the spy had caused the deaths of agents working for the U.S. “Cacheris argued that Hanssen had betrayed some of the same agents as had Ames, and that therefore the government could not prove their deaths were caused directly by Hanssen,” the Post reported, adding that both Ames and Hanssen agreed to plea deals in exchange for information and both received life in prison.
“Prosecutors often were pleased to face Mr. Cacheris — not because he was anything less than a formidable adversary, but because he was experienced and deft in the ways of high-stakes legal contests, from candid plea negotiations to, if necessary, showdowns in the courtroom,” the Post reported.
“You could always rely on whatever he told you,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor in Virginia, told the Post. “Moreover, his life showed attorneys that one can be civil and decent and also greatly effective.”
Cacheris was hired along with his friend Jacob A. Stein, another mainstay of the elite DC defense bar, to represent Lewinsky in June 1998, the Post reported, and they soon obtained complete immunity for her from prosecution in exchange for her full and truthful testimony.
“In 2013, Cacheris secretly represented Edward J. Snowden in confidential negotiations with the Justice Department after the former National Security Agency contractor was charged with espionage and granted asylum in Russia,” the Post reported, noting that “Snowden had provided information to the Post and other newspapers about top-secret surveillance programs operated by the NSA,” but the bargain Cacheris had discussed in which Snowden could return to the U.S. with reduced charges in exchange for information did not come to fruition.
In the Watergate case, “Cacheris and his first legal partner, William G. Hundley, represented the former attorney general who had been chairman of President Richard M. Nixon’s reelection committee,” the Post reported, adding that “Mitchell was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury for his role in the Watergate affair and served 19 months in federal prison before being released for medical reasons.”
Cacheris later said that Mitchell would have had a better deal if he hadn’t refused to testify against Nixon, who resigned in August 1974, the Post reported.
Cacheris often entertained his fellow defense lawyers at his home where they played tennis on what was humorously referred to as “the John Mitchell Tennis Court,” paid for with the fees from representing Mitchell, Cacheris joked.
Of his clients, he told the South China Morning Post in 2014, “I try to see that their rights are protected. I don’t lecture them on what they’ve done; I don’t believe in that. What’s done is done; now the question is ‘how can we come out of it the best way possible?’”
Details concerning the funeral arrangements were not available at press time.