Why Did Dinesh D’Souza Cop A Plea For Making Illegal Campaign Contributions?

Prolific conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty earlier this week to one of two federal charges that his donations to failed 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Wendy Long exceeded campaign-finance limits.

In an appearance in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, D’Souza admitted that he reimbursed two people described as close associates after they each contributed $10,000 to Long’s campaign. (One of them was his girlfriend.)

“I did reimburse them,” D’Souza told U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, according to The Christian Science Monitor. “I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids. I deeply regret my conduct.”

D’Souza, 53, now faces prison time as a result of his guilty plea. The plea prohibits him from objecting to any sentence that isn’t longer than 16 months.

Long, a New York Republican, lost the 2012 Senate election in the deep-blue state by a landslide margin of 44 percent. She only raised about $785,000 and never presented a remotely serious challenge to her Democratic opponent, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

D’Souza and Long have been friends for decades since they were both students at Dartmouth College in the 1980s. Long is not implicated in the indictment. However, prosecutors had reportedly indicated their intention to subpoena her as a witness at trial if necessary.

Why did D’Souza, a one-time Reagan White House policy adviser, choose to cop a guilty plea instead of forcing prosecutors to prove the case against him?

He could be just throwing himself at the mercy of the court. Taken at face value, a statement made this week by D’Souza’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, suggests this possibility.

Brafman, a high-profile criminal defense attorney, said he hopes the sentencing judge “will recognize Mr. D’Souza to be a fundamentally honorable man who should not be imprisoned for what was an isolated instance of wrongdoing in an otherwise productive life,” according to the Monitor.

D’Souza’s own highly remorseful statements in the court this week are further evidence that a simple mercy strategy is at work.

At the same time, more complex legal issues are afoot.

D’Souza faced a dilemma that criminal defendants routinely face: Prosecutors said they would agree to drop the more serious of two charges if he pleaded guilty to the lesser one.

The more serious charge against D’Souza was causing a candidate to file a false report with the Federal Election Commission. It carries a prison term of up to five years. The lesser charge of exceeding campaign finance limits is also a felony but it carries a maximum two-year prison term and prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a sentence between 10 and 16 months.

Additionally, the presiding judge ruled that D’Souza would not be allowed to present any evidence at trial that he is the victim of selective prosecution.

As a result, as D’Souza explained in an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News on Tuesday night, he would have been “going into a trial with in a sense, no defense.”