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Saturday, December 31, 2005

To Plead or Not to Plead...

Jack Abramoff has been given a come to Jesus last ditch ultimatum from the trial judge -- plead or go to trial, and give an answer by Tuesday. If no agreement is reached on a plea deal, then Abramoff stands trial in Miami beginning on January 9th, 2006.

The judge has ordered that a hearing be set for 3:30 pm ET on Tuesday, regardless of whether the deal is reached or not, presumably to go over with Mr. Abramoff what the ramifications of his decision are whichever way he goes, and to take care of any scheduling matters for trial or otherwise.

It's crunch time for Jackie -- how far up the chain is he willing to spill the beans to save his own sorry hide from a substantial chunk of time in the federal prison system? How much is he going to pay back in restitution to all those tribal intersts that he bilked for his crony pals in Congress and in the Republican money chain?

That it is a holiday weekend, and he can spend time looking at the faces of friends and family...well, that's a whole lot of incentive to cut a deal, in my experience with criminal clients that had any soul left to feel the family anguish.

It's incredibly stressful for a defendant at this point -- all the more so with the judge himself issuing a court deadline. This is not, however, uncommon: judges do this all the time when they consult with the attorneys in the case and see that the parties are very close to a deal.

For judges, the dithering and posturing on both sides in the negotiating process is just irritating, because most cases (both civil and criminal) settle on a deal the day of trial, after a jury has been dragged in to be sworn and all the court personnel have gone through all the hassle of setting up media procedures and security measures. It is a big waste of resources and energy that could be put to better use elsewhere when the parties could have just come to agreement a few days earlier.

This nudge can be just what both sides need to close the deal -- and clear a big chunk off the court docket for other matters. Trials take a lot of time, energy and resources, especially high profile, media bonanzas like this one. My guess is that nothing will be in place until late Monday night, if at all, because lawyers tend to negotiate up until the last minute to try and push their advantage at the table by stressing out the other side as much as possible.

By Monday evening, though, there ought to be a whole lotta leaking. And for all of Jackie's pals on the Hill: enjoy the football, the brewskis, and the cocktail weenies this weekend, because you may be in a world of hurt come Tuesday. Abramoff doesn't strike me as a "loyalty to the end and damn the consequences to me" kind of guy. Fitting, considering the company he's been keeping.

Note to Jack: cut a deal, you know DeLay would sell you out in a heatbeat to cut two months off his sentence. Maybe he already has...just think about it, okay?

(Graphics love to Ward Harkavy of the Village Voice's Bush Beat blog.)

UPDATE: I missed this somehow this morning, but the WaPo has a handy compendium of Abramoff articles regarding Abramoff and his pals. In case you are new to the party, this might be a good place to start. Although, as always, Josh Marshall is a great resource on this as well.