By Saundra Torry
"In that huge crowd, Jake's approach was, 'Let's just get lost,' " said former Watergate prosecutor Jim Neal. "It was absolutely the way you should play it."
Now, more than two decades later, Stein and fellow Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris are taking over the defense of Monica S. Lewinsky -- an investigation in which Stein's laid-back, low-profile style will serve as a pointed contrast to the publicity-grabbing antics of Lewinsky's former lawyer, William H. Ginsburg.
But Lewinsky is no bit player in this matter, and even veterans with the dealmaking credentials of Stein and Cacheris will face a difficult challenge in conducting a low-key case for a client alleged to have had an affair with the president and lied about it under oath.
Both Stein, 73, and Cacheris, 69, have represented more than their share of famous clients in high-stakes trouble. Both know their way around a prosecutor's office. And both carry credibility that could be crucial to Lewinsky as independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr moves closer to a decision on whether to indict the former White House intern.
Credibility "is the great asset that Monica has now retained . . . and that is 50 percent of the game," said John Dowd, another prominent member of the Washington white-collar defense bar.
In negotiations over whether to grant Lewinsky immunity in exchange for her testimony, that credibility could make the difference for Starr, who must decide whether Lewinsky is prepared to tell prosecutors everything she knows. "That may not sound like much, but in making a decision whether to give someone immunity or a pass . . . that goes 100 miles down the road."
Cacheris runs his own tiny firm; Stein is a partner at a mid-size shop, Stein, Mitchell & Mezines. Their teaming up is unusual for a high-profile case. Most prominent trial lawyers prefer to run their own show, and no one could recall the hiring of lawyers from different firms to combine efforts. In fact, another veteran defense lawyer, Thomas Green, who was approached by Lewinsky representatives, preferred not to be involved in a team effort, according to a legal source familiar with the talks. Green declined to comment.
Still, legal experts couldn't discern any major flaw in the tag-team approach. As one lawyer put it yesterday, the Lewinsky family likely wanted "to get this over with. So they hired two savvy, experienced, older people to take care of the problem."
Each attorney brings something distinct to the pairing.
Stein was an independent counsel during the 1980s investigation of top Reagan aide Edwin Meese III and completed his investigation -- with a report rather than a prosecution -- in a matter of months. Lewinsky's family, according to two sources, wanted a lawyer who comes from the small collection of former independent counsels.
Cacheris, who started his career as a federal prosecutor but has three decades of experience as a defense lawyer, has worked out plea bargains in recent years for many of his high-profile clients. "He is known for keeping people out of trouble, and one way to do that is by keeping them from going to trial," said Mark Hulkower, who prosecuted one of Cacheris's best-known clients, Soviet spy Aldrich H. Ames.
Dealmaking, however, can be controversial: Critics often argue that a given plea bargain wasn't good enough or that the lawyer should have taken his chances at trial.
Ames, for instance, pleaded guilty to spying and received a life term without parole, the maximum sentence, so his wife, who also entered a guilty plea, would be released from prison within five years to take care of their young son.
The hirings of the Stein-Cacheris team signaled to most lawyers that Lewinsky wanted to make a deal. Both lawyers can develop and maintain "positive relations with an adversary," said former Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert, who has his own hand in the probe as the lawyer for White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. But he added that both are top-flight trial lawyers, which is important, he said, so a prosecutor knows he can't "intimidate them."
Stein -- a writer, juggler and loquacious speaker -- is known as folksy and fast on his feet in court. "He's the kind of lawyer that if you were indicted for murder, found guilty and hanged, you'd still think you had a good defense," said former senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), whom Stein represented in an ethics investigation.
Cacheris, meanwhile, is considered a tough cross-examiner, said Alexandria lawyer William Cummings. Witty and cooperative, Cacheris is a favorite quote for legal reporters and considers dealing with the press part of his legal arsenal.
Most lawyers predicted that Lewinsky would be well-served by the expected softer approach of her new team. As one put it yesterday, Cacheris and Stein are "more likely to keep her out of trouble than somebody who will beat their breast and say, 'I can beat Ken Starr.' "
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company