Carl Kruger was hearing rumors around his neighborhood.
Confidants told the Brooklyn State Senator that federal agents had approached them and asked questions about Kruger. Private questions. It unnerved him.
Kruger needed an attorney. He called Benjamin Brafman.
“He came to see me, said that he had learned there were people being interviewed, and he wanted me to represent him in case he needed counsel,” Brafman recounted. “I concluded that he did.”
Brafman soon learned that the U.S. Attorney’s offices in both the Southern and Eastern districts of New York had launched simultaneous investigations into Kruger. Brafman quickly signed on as Kruger’s counsel and began to monitor both probes.
He met with Eastern District attorneys and said he convinced them that allegations against his client were “baseless.” They dropped their inquiry.
But attorneys from the Southern District possessed a series of taped conversations between Kruger and his associates, which led them to conclude they had the basis to file a corruption case against the senator.
On March 9, 2011, prosecutors notified Brafman that they were going to charge his client with federal crimes and that Kruger should surrender the next day. Brafman informed his client. The news depressed Kruger, but he hoped he could still prevail.
“It’s very hard for someone who is not a criminal to come to grips with the fact that in the next 24 hours the whole world is going to assume that he is a criminal because he’s involved in substantially adverse publicity,” Brafman said.
Brafman, once a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, has secured several high-profile acquittals and dismissals in his 30-year career, including hip-hop mogul Sean Combs, on alleged weapons-possession charges, former City Councilman Dennis Gallagher, on alleged rape charges, and International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose sex abuse case was ultimately dropped.
But he could not save Kruger, his friend of nearly three decades.
“Based on the evidence, it appeared on the merits that a trial wouldn’t be successful,” said Brafman. “Sometimes in my practice you have to do damage control. Sometimes you can’t win. Sometimes the facts don’t allow you to hit a home run. In those cases, a plea is in the best interest of the client, however difficult it may be to consider.”
New York City is a place teeming with pricey political consultants, whip-smart communications strategists and Ivy League-educated attorneys.
But there’s another set of operatives whom politicians tap when they find themselves staring down a scandal or suddenly facing a fight for their professional or personal lives. These crisis-management specialists are the consultants of last resort—the people politicians turn to when they find themselves stuck in a deadlocked election, when they hear a federal indictment is imminent or when they get served a warrant for their arrest.
When those desperate calls come, that’s when these top-flight operatives go to work.
These are the elite consultants who accompany their clients to court or lurk in the background of a hard-to-stomach press conference. They sometimes answer questions on their client’s behalf, but usually avoid the press altogether. And often their best and most important work—killing a story before it breaks or quietly settling a criminal matter to avoid a trial—ends up a carefully guarded secret that the public never learns.
Each situation is different, but crisis managers rely on a similar set of skills to steer their clients out of further trouble.
They must be discreet, meticulous, responsive at all hours and willing to absorb withering media scrutiny while insulating their client from the storm.
It’s a stressful job—perhaps the most difficult in politics—but they relish the challenge of saving careers, or at least keeping their clients out of prison.
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